Category Archives: Games

Rust Introduces Randomly Assigned Race for Players in One Seriously Dope IDGAF Move

Some games only let you be some white guy who saves the world. Some games let you customize everything from skin tone to eyebrow height.  In one seriously bold move, creators of the realist survival game Rust just introduced a feature that randomly selects a players race. In the first iteration of the game, every player was running around fighting hypothermia and building shacks as a bald white guy. But now, players characters come in different skin colors.

Founder of Facepunch Studios Garry Newman wrote in the Rust dev blog post about the change: “Just like in real life, you are who you are — you can’t change your skin color or your face.” He notes that each character’s appearance is actually tied to each player’s SteamID, so it can’t be changed.

Naturally, a bunch of Rust players are ten types of put out about it, and, even more naturally, many of them are coming back with some racist bs responses or the “I’m not racist, but…” responses that reek of willful ignorance. According to Kotaku, Newman also noted an increase in racist language since the change:

“It makes me wish I’d set up some analytics to record how many times the N-word was used before and after the update” Newman said. But Newman also said that he noticed these less-awesome players weren’t the majority and were usually “confronted” (apparently this means they teamed up and hunted the fools down) by other players in the game.

Is it wrong that all I can think of doing after reading all the butthurt racist responses is giving a loud, menacing Nelson-from-the-Simpons-esque “HA HA!”?

HA_HA_-NELSON_SIMPSONS

Happily, there has also been some good responses to the change, and even some gamers stepping up to remind others that being “forced” to play as a different race is pretty much what every gamer of color deals with in most games. You can peep a solid sampling of the responses over at Al Jazeera’s great analysis of this change.

Fortunately, so far, Rust creators don’t seem to be budging on the matter.  In fact, Newman writes that Facepunch Studios plans to further develop the feature to include a wider range of skin tones. “There’s still work to be done, so consider this just the boilerplate of an idea for now. It’s quite pleasing to see different races working together in game, and makes you realise how arbitrary race is.”

The concept is pretty unique and fresh (and pretty darn cool), and Rust‘s realistic survival theme makes it a perfect game to try out such a concept.  While the game play doesn’t really reflect any of the real-life social situations one might face due to skin color, having players play as a race that isn’t their own just might lead the way to more even more interesting experimentation with social issues in gaming. Or, at the very least, it could help a few gamers think about their own relationship to race in the real world.

And maybe eventually, Facepunch will actually throw in another gender too…

All in all, well done, Facepunch Studios. This slow clap’s for you.

Boston Festival of Indie Games: Highlights

This past weekend MIT’s campus was overflowing with even more geeks than already grace its nerdy grounds. The Boston Festival of Indie Games (FIG) took over, bombarding Boston’s geeky masses with an offering of independently created tabletop games, digital games, and the wisdom of professional game developers.

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Although small in comparison to the numbers that show up to PAX and E3, the Festival featured an impressively diverse offering of games, from ninja dice games to zombie football to games for social change and games about depression. Gamers of every gaming style could find something to satisfy their geeky tastes at this gathering of daring developers.

Below are some of the highlights from the Digital Games showcase, but keep an eye out for upcoming features on some of the incredible developers we got a chance to chat with at the Festival:

Candlelight (Idle Action Studios)

candlelight6-deb63adbd09cd24e8741be974f1e310f

 

Featuring a beautiful silhouette design, this 2D puzzle platformer allows you to control two characters at the same time — a boy whose movement is limited by the lantern he carries and a taller young girl with greater mobility. The two characters must work their way through a dynamic maze whose puzzles they can only solve together, helping each other along the way and often taking vastly divergent paths in order to do so. The game will be available on Mac and PC late this Fall.

Demon Chic

Created by mom and son team Christine and Michael FrauenhoferDemon Chic is a delightful head-trip of an RPG that warps you into the freaky world of a trio of roommates navigating love, life, and the demons that come along with them. A creative mix gameplay folds perfectly into the immersive stories that touch on big bad ideas like race, gender, and economics, enriching the narrative.  As the three roommates Ashok, his boyfriend Gary, and his brother Devraj, all high out of their minds, get really real with each other, they’re constantly interrupted by various freaky demons, whom they battle using powers they acquire in an on-screen word-jumble. Alternately hilarious, weird, and touching, Demon Chic is as much a surrealist head trip as it is an honest look at real life and queer issues. The game is available in the iTunes App Store and is vying for a place on Steam (for PC & Mac).

The Time Tribe (ThunderSnow Media, Inc.)

Anthropologist Karen Bellinger Wehner is not a gamer, but, with an awe for the teaching power of games, she put her PhD to the test and created The Time Tribe, an RPG puzzle game that sets you off an adventures across continents and time. Designed with historically- and culturally-accurate artifacts, the game aims to endow young players with a greater cultural literacy in a society that often criminalizes or ignores whole cultures and peoples according to political interests. You can play different parts of the game as any one of the quirky cast of four young kids whose choices from the moment they arrive at an old mansion impact how the story unfolds. To bridge the real world with the game’s fun adventuring, The Time Tribe offers artifact packages you can get in the mail, an online community, a Time Tribe comic and short stories, and even a feature that lets players donate in-game currency to social justice organization around the world. But, with a great story and some mystery mixed in, the game is just plain fun for kids and adults alike.

Cognition (Phoenix Online Studios)

A point-and-click mystery thriller, Cognition follows FBI detective Erica Reed as she uses her ability to see the past when she touches an object to solve her brother’s murder by a serial killer who seems to have resurfaced just to taunt her. The game is now in its fourth and final episode, but all four episodes are available online for Mac and PC.

Revolution 60 (Giant Spacekat)

A self-proclaimed mix of Heavy Rain and Mass Effect, Revolution 60 features an all-female special operative team in the future on a mission to steal a space shuttle and prevent nuclear war. Heavily cinematic but boasting interesting gameplay and combat mechanics, the game is pushing the boundaries of what is possible for games on the iPad. You play as special operative Holiday, who can be as no-nonsense or as sassy as you make her, but every choice you make affects the next step and how the game ultimately ends. Part of a six-part series, the game will be out in March 2014 on iOS with PC and Mac soon to follow.

Depression Quest

Not exactly the most encouraging title, but the game has a great premise and offers an important look at what it’s like to live with depression. A free-to-play, text-heavy online game, Depression Quest takes you through the everyday experience of a person suffering from depression, from simply getting out of bed in the morning to conversations with a significant other. With five possible endings and over 150 unique encounters, every choice you make throughout the “quest” has impacts your depression levels and what comes next. At the Festival gamers crawled inside a sheet tent to get the full experience of the game. Created by Zoe Quinn to spread awareness about depression, the game is free to play online, but donations go to iFred, an organization that supports education and research on depression.

Get Water! (Decode Global)


InGet Water! players experience modern India as the young girl Maya, who only wants to go to school, but she is continually removed from classes in order to collect water. The faster you help Maya get water, the sooner she can return to her studies. Throughout the game, Maya acquires new tools and skills that allow her to collect more water faster. Created by Montreal-based team Decode Global, the game aims to draw attention to the dual-causes of water scarcity and girls’ education in India and other nations. However more than just becoming aware of the issues, players also learn about the efforts of real world charities like chartiy:water and the international work to bring water to developing nations. Get Water! is available on iPad in the U.S. and will be available on the App Store for India and Canada September 17th.

Ghanaian Studio Pioneering African Video Games

“Why don’t I see anyone making games in Africa?” asked Leti Games founder Eryam Tawia in an interview with BBC Africa.

Finding a lack of African-themed games and games from African developers, Tawia and his friend Wesley Kiriniya co-founded Leti Games “to create the next African Super heroes via comics and Games.”

And they’re well on their way. Rooting their games in African themes, culture, and mythology, the studio is currently at work on Ananse: The Origin, a game that features the West African god Ananse who possesses a human body endowing him with super powers.  You can catch some of the footage here.

Ananse from “Ananse: The Origin” (Leti Games)

With mobile phones being more prominent than consoles and PCs in many countries in Africa, the studio is focusing on mobile platforms, and their first mobile game iWarrior is already available on the iPhone.

via BBC News

On Saving the World While Brown & Womany: A Gamers Perspective

So, I finished playing DontNod Entertainment‘s new video game Remember Me a month ago, and I freaking loved it. The game play was rich, the story was fascinating, the motifs were flipping genius — from the special combat powers called “Sensens” to (everyone’s favorite I’m sure) the memory remixing.  The only real frustration I had (aside from a particular villain whose super-annoying battle taunts were riffs off of  Little Red Riding Hood…) was that I couldn’t interact with more of the incredible world they’d created.

I was so taken with the game that the backgrounds on my phone and home and office computers are rotating screen shots of the main character Nilin being a total bad ass.  And this is the dead giveaway… As great as all these elements of the game are, I eventually had to admit to myself that a large part of my over-sized love for the game is about the mixed-race, hardcore, stereotype-busting woman lead Nilin.

But this isn’t a review of Remember Me. This is one of those ashamed head shakes you get from your best friend as you do something irrecoverably embarrassing and stupid. This is an exasperated sigh at the game developers at PAX East who after I asked them questions would respond to the white dude friend I brought along for the geek out. This is throwing shade at the studios who refuse to publish games like Remember Me because “games with female leads don’t sell”… And this is the eye-roll I should’ve given the doofus-face at GameStop who couldn’t believe a human with boobs was buying a video game…

When I walked into my local GameStop to pick up Remember Me on release day, I was, as usual, gaped at like some kind of rare exotic anomalous bird or a polar bear in the Serengeti. At the counter, the checkout guy side-eyes me as he rings me up and eventually initiates a conversation that went like this:

Side-Eye Guy:  “This is for you?”
Anomalous Brown Woman Gamer: “Uh…yea…”

Side-Eye Guy: “Really?”
ABWG: … [incredulous head tilt and wtf look over glasses]

Side-Eye Guy: [purse-lipped] “It’s just cause it’s got a girl, huh.”
ABWG: Ha! No! But also… So what?

Side-Eye Guy: [more side-eye, smirk and head shake]

*At this point I’m aware that I should roll my eyes and leave, but what can I say, sometimes I adore a chance to get foolish*

ABWG: Ugh, what? I’ve heard good things about it.
Side-Eye Guy: [looks doubtfully down at the game and hands it over like it’s soggy bread] What’s it like?

I describe what I know about the game, and linger over details about the memory rewind feature and how it seems like it might be  kinda reminiscent of Braid.

Side-Eye Guy: Oooh… So you don’t like shooters or nothing like that. You don’t like the violence, huh.
ABWG: … … This is a shooter.

Side-Eye Guy: But I mean like a real shooter, like… You should be playing Call of Duty or…
ABWG: Ooor?

Side-Eye Guy: [flipping a Call of Duty game over in his hands] This is the real stuff. You should play this.
ABWG: I’ve played Mass Effect, Tomb Raider, Bioshock, Borderlands, Fallout. I play EVE Online and I’m gonna but the hell out of The Last of Us when it’s out–

Side-Eye Guy: Pssh! Nah nah. Mass Effect is lame. [taps Call of Duty again and nods]
ABWG: Call of Duty all you play? Maybe you’re the one who needs to branch out.

Luckily the conversation was interrupted by a friend of his who ended up leaving at the same time as I did and walked with me to the train. This conversation had it’s own problems, including a goodbye that involved him trying to get my number as he says how cool I am because I’m “like, a guy’s girl you know?” But let’s not get into that one.

Instead, back to the point here. Yes, I was attracted to this game by the female lead. Even more so by the brownness of said female lead. And so? What about it?

I also bought it because it sounded interesting as all get out and the art from the previews looked dope. The brown lady on the cover just made me that much more excited about it. It’s rare, outside of an RPG with custom characters, to get to run around and punch things in a video game world as a hero who looks like me.  Even rarer to see the interracial couple that created her…

Nilin & fam
Nilin & fam

That said, in the past I’ve definitely refrained from opening my wallet just because a game/movie/book is making an effort towards diversity or race & gender awareness. I’ll happily clap from the side-lines or given a nod of appreciation to these ventures, but I don’t feel obliged to see/play/read something that doesn’t appeal to me, just because it’s not as exasperatingly white (or painfully stereotyped) as the rest of popular entertainment.

Remember Me completely won me over with its fun and strategic combat and the whole crazy interesting world DontNod created, as well as with it’s dynamic and mixed-heritage heroine. It was amazing to play a character that wasn’t the standard big boxy white guy. It was almost like nourishment, like eating a steak after a month of nothing but rice. I couldn’t help but wonder if white male gamers felt the same excitement to play characters that looks different than the typical big boxy white guy. So I asked my big boxy white guy friend, who basically watched me play the whole game (since I basically took over his PlayStation 3 for a week to do so).

His answer? Well… he rarely plays games where he doesn’t get to customize his character. In his own words:

“I played Final Fantasy XIII. You play a thin blonde white woman… And, well, it’s not weird if that’s what you’re asking. It’s no different from reading a story with a female protagonist. If there had been a love interest, maybe it would’ve been more jarring. But the story was about the end of the world. The sex of the character doesn’t come into the play of the story. It’s cool to have a woman that’s bad ass with a big ass sword, but ya, I mean… I guess it didn’t really make a difference. I was just kinda like [shrug] ya, okay, that works.”

Lightning is a former soldier in Final Fantasy XIII

About Remember Me in particularly, he said, “I mean, ya it was different, but mostly cause you were so excited at first. The game itself didn’t really draw attention to her race…”

It’s true, as Evan Narcisse writes over at Kotaku, Nilin‘s race didn’t really matter in the world of the game itself. In no way was her mixed race relevant to the game. And my own enthusiasm for Nilin as a mixed female hero doesn’t stem from some kind of special  brown woman empathy or self-identification with her. Players empathize with Nilin because we can broadly relate to her hardships, and brown gamers with lady parts are no exception. It’s true that I was excited to see a brown woman on the cover of the game before playing it, but Nilin wouldn’t have made it to the honorable place of my cell phone background if the game had totally sucked or she’d been a lame character. I definitely love that she looked like me in a culture where heroes generally don’t, but did I have a more immersive experience because she looked like me? Nope.

Joel being all boxy in The Last of Us

In fact, now that I’ve moved on to playing The Last of Us, I’ve found much more to empathize with in Joel, the big boxy bearded white hero of this super-creepy post-apocalyptic world, whose story is simply more humanly relatable, despite the zombies… Seriously that game is so immersive, I’ve had to take breathers to spare myself the emotional trauma.

This is what bothers me about the representation argument for diversity in video games. The argument comes from both sides.  On the gamer side the argument often invokes the question “where are the games for us? With heroes who look like me? Women/Minorities are gamers too!”  And the developers retort: “But most gamers are white dudes, and we gotta sell games”.

The argument not only assumes that a gamer needs the hero to look like him/her, but also underestimates the imaginations of gamers immensely.  Like with most fiction, gaming is about immersion. Gamers let go of reality in order to put themselves in the shoes of a Roman general or a futuristic space ronin. What makes developers think that gamers don’t have the imagination to immerse themselves in a world where the hero is a mixed race woman or say a queer Vietnamese man? And representation for non-white gamers simply because we exist is hardly the best argument either… because, what if we didn’t? What if the majority of gamers were/are white males?  Would that mean that the lack of of non-white and female characters would be okay?

Frankly, the argument I’d make for more diversity in games is that the parade of boxy, gruffy white dudes is just boring… Hell, it only worked for movies so long before they started putting John Wayne in brownface to play Gengis Khan. Eventually they even starting making progress away from depicting minorities as offensive stereotypes, hurrah!

John Wayne as Genghis Khan

As Remember Me proves, games with POC characters don’t have to be embroiled in racial commentary in order to “justify” the POC hero (though this can and has been a great addition to several games). But just as the diversity of races and classes in a Dungeons and Dragons game or a sci-fi movies with alien races or tribes makes those worlds richer and way cool, something a little different could really make for a game that stands out from the rest of the rugged-white-guy-shoots-baddies games. I mean, what better way to set your game apart then by having the “guy” on the cover not look like ever other hero on the cover of every other game on the shelf?

And since having a female or POC lead of a game doesn’t seem to doom a game to low sales and ridicule (e.g. Tomb Raider, Remember Me, Mirror’s Edge, The Walking Dead, Guacamelee!), nor drive away the white dude regulars, it sure couldn’t hurt to catch the attention of the brown/female/queer/”anomolous” gamers out there, the way Remember Me caught mine.

Not to mention, a greater diversity of game heroes and heroines would make it significantly less “remarkable” that I walk into a game store in all my female browness and dare to buy a game with a brown woman on the cover. And imagine what it would do for sales to not alienate (or exoticize) whole demographics of consumers…

Nvidia Shield Price Chopped to $299

nvidia-shieldDown $50 bucks. Would you buy Nvidia’s unique full-controller and display combo for $300 bucks?

Tech

Apparently realizing that people enjoy paying less money for things, Nvidia is knocking the price of its Shield gaming handheld down to $299.

That’s $50 less than the original price for Shield, which launches on June 27. Those who already pre-ordered will also be charged the lower price.

Nvidia said it’s lowering the price in response to user feedback. “We’ve heard from thousands of gamers that if the price was $299, we’d have a home run,” the company said in a blog post. “We want to get SHIELD into the hands of as many gamers as possible.”

Nvidia Shield is a full-sized game controller attached to a 5-inch touchscreen, which flips open and shut like a clamshell. The device has an Nvidia Tegra 4 processor inside, and runs a full version of Android 4.2 for playing games from the Google Play Store. Shield can also play PC games over…

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Indie Wednesday: Accessible Gaming, Disabled Vigilantes & Vampire Noir

It’s the Wednesday before payday, and that paycheck will soon be burning a hole in your pocket for booze and pizza and low brow entertainment, so why not balance it out and make yourself feel better about your more indulgent purchases by spending the first dollars of your check on some noble independent projects?  Here are a few that’ll help salve your conscience and please your inner geek at the same time!

Special Effect


With E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in full force, everyone’s hopped up on the latest technology consoles and game developers are boasting about at the expo. While the name of the game at E3 is awe-factor, over at the offices of the mission-driven organization SpecialEffect, the goal is to take advantage of cutting-edge technology to bring video games to individuals whose needs are not currently met by the field.

SpecialEffect finds solutions so that those affected by neurological disease, physical impairment, or a disability of any kind has the opportunity to play the latest and greatest games.

It seems awareness about accessibility is on the rise in the gaming industry. Just this past February SpecialEffect was chosen as the 2013 Charity of the Year by Multiplay, and In an interview with founder Dr. Mick Donnean over at PCGamer, Donnean notes that various game studios have sought out SpecialEffect’s help in developing accessible games.

Blood Kiss 

Written by Michael Reaves, who has worked on such projects as Disney’s Gargoyles  and Batman: The Animated Series, and starring such awesome geeky talent as Neil Gaiman and Amanda Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Blood Kiss promises to debut a brand new genre — Vampire Noir!  —  combination of genres that seem so perfect for each other it’s hard to believe it hasn’t happened before.

Here’s a bit on the plot:

“Blood Kiss revolves around detective Joe Belicek, who must solve the murder of a vampire before a deranged killer murders them all. Inspired by Film Noir, this supernatural thriller is set in 1940s Hollywood with famous haunts like the Brown Derby.”

If you don’t know Michael Reaves, you might find the video intro a bit kitschy– the ol’ cue card trick — but you’ll soon find out that Reaves suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, which makes it difficult for him to speak. The film will be associated with the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, in order to promote awareness about the neurological disease. Check out Reaves’ blog Parkinson’s Monster where he writes about his experience with the disease.

The Kickstarter has already reached it’s $50,000 goal to make the movie, but with 3 days to go, the crew is pushing to make the film all it can be. With $100,000 support Reaves and crew promise better sound, costume, and makeup and a film of”Indie Thriller quality, shot with red cam”. The story will also be captured in comic book form.

Vindicated

Vindicated will introduce readers to John Russell, a soldier who lost both his legs in combat.  Upon returning home, he takes up more than just a set of prosthetic legs, he dons armor and takes to the streets to combat organized crime in Seattle.

The creator George Kissell, a comic book artist known for his work with IDW comics and on the Alan Wake video game, is a veteran himself. Team members Ernesto Haibi and Robert Scott McCall are also military vets; Haibi was permanently disabled in combat. The team came together on this project in order to raise awareness about veterans who have been physically and psychologically scarred by war, and the process of coping when they return home.

What makes this project particularly salient is the dedication to realism that Kissell and crew have promised. Hiring technical experts in military and law enforcement, the creators will leave the impossible bullet dodging to the likes of Batman and other unpowered fictional heroes, and show how this everyday hero uses his combat-experience, intellect, and fierce dedication to survive the day and take down the badguys.

Goal: $8,000  End Date: July 12, 2013

Other Projects to Support:

Feel the Force – a Star Wars convention for geeks with disabilities

Remember Us? Why We Need More Diversity in Video Games


It’s pretty undeniable that, not unlike other fan genres, there is a glaring lack of characters in color in video games. The state of the characters of color that actually do make it into a video game is the same as it is in sci-fi and comics (though comics are doing decidedly better on this) – stereotyped, marginal, or token.

But this is sadly old news. And this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) had little to add in the way of diversity. We need to do better. And not just the indies. We need the major publishers to get on board.

The argument’s been made before that gamers are a diverse crowd and therefore games should reflect the people playing them. Though legitimate, this is not that argument.

Gamers of color aren’t gonna pass up the new Assassin’s Creed just because the main character’s a white guy. Just like gamers of all shades didn’t balk at Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation for it’s Black female lead. In fact, busting the myth that games with female leads don’t sell, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation sold incredibly well.

But then again Assassin’s Creed has a well established fanbase. For newer games, daring to break the white male mold can actually unleash the ire of the fanlosers among our nerdy ranks, those who can’t imagine a female-led game that isn’t about cooking and cleaning (no seriously, people said that). Even when developers are ballsy enough to lead a game with a character of color or a woman…

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