Archive for July, 2013

Don Mattrick, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas

Don Mattrick, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas

Back in June there was a panel at USC in which Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Don Mattrick sat in.  They discussed several topics, but one in particular ruffled my feathers a bit.  They both (the directors) made a case for videogames not being able to truly be art.  Now before I delve into this I would like to mention I am a huge fan of both Spielberg and Lucas.  These filmmakers have revolutionized the film industry in their own, very distinct ways.  Spielberg has been the eye behind the lens of countless great films and what more can be said about Lucas’ Star Wars?  Or their amazing collaboration for the Indiana Jones films?  These gentleman’s opinions deserve to be heard and taken into account, but I digress.

Now, videogames do differ from film for several reasons, but the biggest one being videogames are interactive.  When watching a film, the viewer only engages visually and mentally.  The interactivity in itself, as stated by Spielberg, is a determining factor for videogames to not quite be there on the level of film or literature as art; “the second you get the controller something turns off in the heart. And it becomes a sport”.  What is art then?  Literature and film make us strongly feel emotions through what is being presented to us.  The content we are absorbing scratches at our soul.  We cry when the main character courageously dies for the noble cause, we wince when a character is experiencing excruciating pain and we laugh when a joke is planted just right.  We take in the beautiful visuals of a Picasso or Vincent van Gogh with our hearts because when they pressed those paint brushes to the canvas they did so with love and care.  All these representations of art have a common denominator:  They emanate emotion.

So, do video games emanate emotion?  That depends on the game in question.  Just the same as only certain films speaking to your emotions.  Not every film is a testament of human creativity.  With that being said the propensity for bad games is still high because of their structure which Spielberg eluded to.  Games are meant to be played and unfortunately more often than not character and plot take a back seat to gameplay mechanics.  Gameplay, is not something I think can be artful and will agree with the esteemed directors in that regard, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the contents as a whole should be disregarded.  According to Lucas “storytelling is about two things, it’s about character and plot”, but I think he missed something and that’s in the execution of those two components.

One only needs to look at these last two years to see the maturation of videogames as a legitimate story telling and visually artful medium.  Let’s look at some examples I think fit the description of film or even literature caliber stories.  Three games stand out to me above all others when it comes to “character and plot”.  Those are The Walking Dead, Bioshock Infinite and the sublime The Last of Us.  These three games are all about “character and plot”.  The Walking Dead and The Last of Us are story driven emotional roller coasters that tell the story of survival in a bleak world while also entrusting you in the care of a young lady.  Throughout the journey strong paternal feelings are developed for the supporting characters who, at times, just steal the show.  These are feelings that can not be duplicated in a film or literature because you’re not a part of it, it’s more of a journey.  Bioshock Infinite is a tour de force of creative storytelling that spans everything from racism, politics and even a heavy religious backdrop.  Not to mention the setting of the floating city of Colombia is simply breathtaking.  As far as visually appealing, one would have to look no further than Journey.  This game is basically poetry in motion as you make your way through the desert to a mysterious mountain.  This game’s has no real story, I mean the main character doesn’t even have a name, but that’s not the appeal for this game.  It’s the visual direction.  The slight undulations of the sand and the sun shining give the desert almost a vast ocean quality.  The camera work only accentuates the experience by giving players breathtaking views of this enigmatic world.

There are many more examples of titles that give you so much more than just a standard gameplay experience, but those last games I touched on are trail blazing a new path to deeply emotional artful games.  Again, just the way their are movies that don’t do much for you their are also games that fall in that category, their is just more of them since video games are still a very young medium.  It hasn’t had enough time to flourish yet.  Film, art and literature have been around significantly longer and are much more mature mediums.  With that I leave you with one recommendation: play The Last of Us.  This “videogame” is strong enough to hold up to a good book or film and is also visually appealing.   I guarantee it will elicit strong emotions from you and if that’s a sign of things to come then we have much to be excited about.

http://www.theverge.com/2013/6/13/4427444/lucas-spielberg-storytelling-in-games-its-not-going-to-be-shakespeare-usc

In the early hours of Friday, July 26th Activision Blizzard bought itself freedom to operate independently from major French corporation, Vivendi.  The asking price was 8.2 billion dollars or 429 million shares.

This break from Vivendi was led by private investors Davis Advisors, Leonard Green & Partners and Tencent.  The private investing group owns about a 24.9% stake in the company.   The current CEO Robert Kottick and Co-Chairman Brian Kelly, will remain in their current positions and also committed 100 million dollars of their own money.  Vivendi will still have an interest in Activision Blizzard, but it won’t be a controlling one.  They will own 12% or 83 million shares.

Robert Kottick took hold of a nearly bankrupt Activision when he merged with Blizzard back in 2008.  The company now has almost 17 billion dollars in market capitalization.  Kottick stated his company is “still retaining more than 3 billion cash on hand to preserve financial stability”.  As of this writing Activision Blizzard (ATVI) ended the day at $17.46 in market price, up $2.28 from it’s opening price at the start of Friday’s trading day.

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/07/26/activision-in-8-2-billion-deal-to-buy-back-stake-from-vivendi/?_r=2&

Mobile devices such as tablets may soon get a substantial upgrade in the graphics department. Project Logan is the next generation CUDA-capable mobile processor from Nvidia and the possible missing link between mobile gaming and dedicated gaming systems.

This incredibly strong chip’s GPU comes from the same Kepler architecture that is currently in use with contemporary laptops. The key differences being the chip will use “less than one-third the power of GPUs in leading tablets…while performing the same rendering”. The chip will be functional at the mobile level by using less power than it’s predecessor as well.

In a recent demo showcased at SIGGRAPH, Nvidia showed off it’s graphical horsepower on the new chip by demoing “Ira”. This demo shows the complex animation of a human face all generated in real time.

 

This will be the most powerful chip on the mobile market when it’s released, but what strokes my curiosity is if this vast improvement in rendering will mean anything in the big picture of gaming. Sure it will look a lot prettier than what’s currently available, but not factoring the occasional showing off to friends and family, will this improve gaming on a mobile device? Would you prefer to play on mobile devices or does it not make a difference?

http://blogs.nvidia.com/blog/2013/07/24/kepler-to-mobile/

 

The Oculus Rift is an exciting product of the future.  It’s been a while since a viable virtual reality experience was available to the public.  Most virtual reality projects have not had a lasting effect, so it is widely understood that the Oculus Rift is in an uphill battle.  The recipe for success doesn’t only lie in the hardware though, but also the software and currently, there is not a lot of software available for the Oculus Rift.  Outside of some mods for existing games and other software that seems more like tech demos, the pickings area slim.  

The Irvine based company is looking to remedy this with a competition that will be hosted by the OR team and IndieCade, an annual hub for indie developers to get together and show off their projects.  The grand prize is $10,000, but the OR team is going to give away $50,000 all together for the creation of software for their platform.  This is an awesome opportunity for both parties, the aspiring developer and for the Oculus Rift to strengthen it’s software side of things.  The winner will also have a chance to show off their software at IndieCade, which will be in Culver City, later this year.    

Sounds like something you would want to participate in?  If so click the sign up link: http://www.oculusvr.com/vrjam

Steam is an amazing digital gaming platform and is a worthy proponent of what our digital gaming future might look like.  With strong consumer support and programs such as Steam Greenlight and Steam Workshop, which promote indie developing and community modding respectively, their is really only one more aspect they could work on.  The way they handle DRM.  Of course their have been rumblings recently that Steam may adopt a way to share your digital library, but these are still rumors at best.

So, what are we to do if we want to sell our digital copies we purchased with our hard earned dollars?  As of now nothing really, but a preliminary court ruling in Europe from last year might soon put this DRM stuff in motion.  On July 3rd of 2012 the European Court of Justice ruled that pre-owned digital software may be sold to other consumers.  Since, this is just a preliminary ruling it may still be challenged and must be enforced by a national court.  Still, the Federation of German Consumer Organizations or VZVB made their intentions known in February, they plan to take Steam to court for their DRM policies.  Looks like this is now confirmed and the VZVB is hoping to take Steam to court later this year.

The developments of this story could be very pronounced.  As of now their is no precedent for how DRM is or should be handled.  It’s sort of a Wild West with each company handling it the way they want to, but eventually this will all come to a head.  As digital content is integrated more and more into our lives it is paramount that a uniform structure is created so that people may understand what to expect when it comes to their digital belongings.

http://www.cinemablend.com/games/Valve-Steam-Policies-Get-Challenged-Court-Gamers-Could-Resale-Their-Games-Says-VZBV-57648.html

This week was a bit on the quiet side, but with Comic Con in San Diego today, some awesome tidbits have come out.  Aside from that, the Oculus Rift team had some interesting ideas for it’s awesome hardware and your PS4 digital library can be played anywhere!!

So, according to Oculus Rift CEO Brendan Iribe, they hope one day the Oculus Rift will be either free or subsidized…wait what?!  Yes, this is indeed the case according to an interview Brendan Iribe had with Edge.  The current development kit version of the OR is $300.  This is the same price point they want to keep for the 1080p enabled consumer version to be released (currently it supports up to 720p), but the OR team is hard at work trying to come up with different business models for distribution of their hardware.  Iribe wants to subsidize the price by essentially making the hardware cheaper to produce based on the money they make from it or it’s products; “Let’s say there was some game you played in VR that everybody loved and everybody played and we made $100 a month – or even $10 a month – at some point the hardware’s cheap enough and we’re making enough that we could be giving away the headset.”  All I can say about this is I hope they get the support from the consumers since that’s the only way this will happen.  It seems as if the OR team is striving to make this hardware accessible to the masses by way of price reduction which usually is a sound way to increase a user base.  I like it and I’m on board, let’s just hope they do it right.

http://www.edge-online.com/features/oculus-vr-wants-to-release-its-headset-for-free/

Sony wants to make “a digital [game] library a practical option in the real world” by combining access to your library via your username and a function called Play As You Download.   Neil Brown, Sony’s R&D senior team leader spoke at Develop and outlined the process.  As many of you savvy readers know already, the PlayStation 4 comes packed with two chips.  One is for the graphical processes and the other to maintain the background duties such as downloading, which was a process shared by one chip on all last generation consoles.  This is definitely an exciting development and basically one ups the Family Share plan Microsoft had in place with the Xbox One presented at E3.  Microsoft might still bring back the Family Share plan, but it might have trouble being as convenient as this current plan by Sony if they keep it the same as what was originally announced.

http://www.officialplaystationmagazine.co.uk/2013/07/10/ps4s-digital-library-lets-you-play-your-games-anywhere-on-anyones-console/

Lastly, just some quick tidbits from Comic Con in quick fire fashion:

  • Unbeknownst to anyone a teaser trailer for a World of Warcraft film was shown!  By director Duncan Jones, filming is set to start next year
  • It has been confirmed that the next episode of The Walking Dead Game will definitely have Clementine in it and also fill you in on what happened to Kenny
  • The Xbox One will be able to 3D map your head so that it may be used on your avatar AND the Kinect camera will capture the facial expressions you’re making while playing a game to mimic them on your avatar.  HAHA that should be interesting.