Archive for the 'video games' Category



Marketing partnership drags me back to WoW

I write this as I’m installing World of Warcraft on my computer.

What happened?

Blizzard Entertainment succeeded in creating one of the most immersive, fun, virtual game worlds I’ve ever played.

That’s why I bought the game four years ago.

I played for a couple of months, enjoying almost every moment of it. Then a combination of less time, and an unstable internet connection dragged me away.

So why am I re-installing it now, four years later?

I noticed a few days ago, that an icon for World of Warcraft appeared on my desktop. One of those free 10-day offers. A marketing partnership, in which a desktop shortcut piggy-backed onto my computer with some other piece of software. I did some quick detective work, and found that the piece of software that invited the shortcut to my desktop party was none other than an ATI driver update.

I couldn’t bring myself to delete the icon. And now, thinking about the characters I abandoned those years ago, I want to try the game again. I miss the vast landscapes, and high adventure that they’re home to.

All because of a clever partnership between Advanced Micro Devices/ATI and Blizzard Entertainment.

Partnerships like this exist throughout almost every facet of product promotion and marketing. But, I think the game industry benefits from these two-fold. The trial can hook new players – ones who either haven’t heard of the game, or have resisted playing it due to the price. It also draws fans back to games they haven’t played in a while.

A well-made, unique game never loses its fans, just it’s players (if that makes sense). What I mean is, if a game is good enough, and elicits a unique user experience, the memory of that experience sticks with players long after they put the game on the shelf. Every so often, the desire to relive that memory pops back into their mind. This is different from Spring Break 2002 in that you can re-live it by simply re-installing.

These partnerships are seeds that bring back the memories. At least, that’s what happened to me today.

I think I’ll re-start my WoW experience with a Tauren Shaman.

*Note* All of my old characters were still there and ready for me to resume playing immediately!

Trying to understand “video game addiction”

bees-in-the-video-gamesIs this phenomena constructed by the media, or is there something to this? I’ve noticed the subject of video game addictions in the media a lot these days. 

Video games can offer an immediate distraction from the world around us. They’re fun, they’re challenging, many offer intense stimuli – a very immersive experience. So when life isn’t going our way, it can be easy to turn to video games for escape.

There are countless outlets that people use for the same purpose. Food, exercise, sports, books, movies. They often become obsessions. What draws the media to pick on video games?

I think a large reason is because they’re relatively new. Video games only appeared about 30 years ago, and have really just become mainstream in the last 10 years. Only now are kids who grew up with games becoming parents themselves. Until now, most parents just saw video games as something their kids wanted – but didn’t know a whole lot about them.

It shouldn’t be surprising that teens are drawn so strongly to games. Video games are empowering to the player. While in the game world you’re usually playing the role of hero. You rescue people, fight off enemies, solve puzzles, and do all kinds of fantastic things. That’s powerful for a person crossing the bridge between childhood and adulthood.

The media really picked up on parents’ concern when their children began spending hours playing video games. The news has had a field day, and “Video Game Addiction” stories have been hits.

What criteria does heavy use of video games have to meet to become an addiction? For substance abuse, there are three primary criteria. Increased tolerance, signs of withdrawal and the acquisition of the substance putting stress on other aspects of your life.

There are plenty of cases where people play inordinate amounts of games; failed relationships, lost jobs, etc. But with video games, there’s the chicken and egg equation. Do they avoid other things to play games; or do they play games to avoid other issues?

I don’t think that there are any serious physiological withdrawal symptoms of going game-free. Nor do I think there’s any tolerance building to gaming (aside from thumb strength/calluses). I do think there are a lot of discontent and often depressed people who find video games an empowering escape.

The video game addiction is a media cover-up for many other, far more frightening problems and mental disorders. Games even come packaged with controllers – most other things are much trickier, and scarier to gain control of.

Gaming 2.0?

If Web 2.0 is collaborative content, commenting and sharing, what is gaming 2.0?

I’ll hazard that it is co-operative gaming. Ok, I’m just scratching for a snappy title to this post. Co-op gaming has been around for ages. Remember Double Dragon, Final Fight and all of those side-scrolling co-op fighters?

Doom had a co-op mode for dial-up and LAN play, and I believe so did Duke Nukem 3D.

There has, however, been a recent revival in its popularity! For a long time, online play was being used for competitive play, rather than co-operative. This changed a number of years ago with Halo. Since then there have been a number of games that are designed specifically with co-op in mind. 

Army of Two was released to critical ridicule last spring.

I haven’t had the chance to play many of these games, having no Xbox360 or Playstation3. I just played the demo for “Left 4 Dead”, a game set for release this week by Valve Software. It’s a Horror Survival game based on a setting similar to the movie “28 Days Later” where people are infected with a virus that turns them into blood thirsty zombie-like monsters.

In the game you can play with up to three others, working together to escape the infested city and reach safety. I like the return of co-op action games. It’s a fun way to engage with friends. It reminds me of playing Counter Strike in high school with a regular group.

I’m considering buying the full game, provided some friends also purchase it.

Let me know if you’re interested in playing some time. Share your SteamID.

Video Games and Corporate Communication

Following a fundraising event at my office last week, this is a subject I’ve been thinking about.

The fundraiser, as part of the Government of Canada’s Workplace Charitable Campaign, included Guitar Hero, Wii Tennis and Dance Dance Revolution, to be played for a donation.

Sadly, I didn’t see a lot of excitement surrounding the video game station. In fact, there wasn’t a lot of excitement surrounding the entire event. However, the paper airplane competition was a popular one.

When bringing video games into corporate communications, you need to consider your audience (as goes for any other tactics). I work in a fairly conservative office, where many employees, particularly managers, are over 45. When you’re trying to appeal mainly to baby boomers, video games might not be a great call.

Here’s one other issue I was considering: The younger employees who might be interested in video games report to managers who are likely in the boomer crowd; they may be worried that their managers or co-workers will frown on them taking part in video games at work.

If you’re considering working video games into a communications effort, be it for fundraising, awareness, or employee appreciation event, carefully consider how it fits.

  • Does it fit with the culture of your organization? Are people going to participate? Are you offering games that are going to appeal to your target audience?
  • Does it fit with the goal. In the case of a fundraiser, you want people to donate. If nobody’s interested in playing the games, they won’t donate. If your goal is awareness, does it match the message you’re trying to communicate. I.e. using Wii Fit or  DDR as part of a campaign to promote employee fitness makes sense. Using Rock Band to promote fitness doesn’t make as much sense.
  • If your budget allows for it, you may want to consider having a game developed that fits with your communication goals. 

You could consider offering a flash based game on your corporate intranet that educates and challenges employees. It may be surprisingly inexpensive to have a developer adapt one of their previous games to your needs with some changes in the characters, etc. Just make sure the game isn’t too addictive and replayable. Establish how long you want employees to spend playing and extracting the message or knowledge and tailor the game accordingly.

These are just some thoughts I had. As always, I invite your ideas and comments. Do you think games can be useful tools in the workplace?

Try not to panic too much…

Though, I’ve been finding it difficult this past week.

It’s just so much fun!

I’m talking about Zombie Panic: Source, a recently released multiplayer modification for Half Life 2 (Source Engine). It’s team based game play that forces you to co-operate if you want to survive. After all, survival is the point of the game!

Here’s how it works, and why it’s fun:

Unless you’re slow to join, or opt to begin as one of the first zombies, you start each round as a survivor. As a survivor, you need to stick with your mates and share weapons and ammo (often in short supply) to keep the zombies at bay.

Every map has it’s own character. It’s up to your team to find the safest spots to defend against the waves of zombies. Some maps have a series of objectives that you can complete to escape. Others, you just drop zombies until they run out of spawns.

It’s great horror survival action. If you like Resident Evil, or similar games, and want to play with a group of friends or random internet folks, this’ll let you do it. Once you get settled into the game, you’ll be jumping out of your seat after someone sneaks up on you as a zombie, or one of your fellow survivors spontaneously turn zombie after becoming infected in a non-lethal encounter.

Here’s what’s really fun – there are stakes as a survivor. You don’t respawn immediately. However, you don’t wait around for the next round like you would in Counter-Strike. You become a zombie, and try to kill your former teammates.

As a zombie, you can have a ton of fun trying to hide in the shadows, sneaking up on the survivors. It’s always fun jumping out of shadows to startle an unsuspecting player. They start firing their pistol wildly, backing into their friends who haven’t even noticed you yet. If you’re lucky, you can convert a little group of survivors on your own. It’s easy if they’re in small groups.

When the survivors stick together in larger numbers, it’s challenging to get them, and requires zombie-teamwork. I.e. The zombie mob.

So, to recap – this mod is a blast because it offers the exhilaration of multiplayer horror survival action, and lets you play the other side after you die. You have some fun shuffling around as a animated corpse with a hunger for human flesh. Or, sneak around in a dark, deserted apartment complex, trying to avoid becoming zombie food.

It’s worth the download!

In fact, a good friend of mine bought Half Life 2 just so he could play this mod with me.

(P.S. Thanks for coming back after my September/October Hiatus!)

Megaman Marathon for Children’s Cancer

This is proof evidence that video games can be used for both GOOD and AWESOME! (Proof will come after the results are seen)

Visit the website if you’re interested in learning more about the 48-hour Megaman marathon being organized by Chuck Guarino to help raise money for the Chrildren’s Cancer Foundation. Chuck was inspired after his 3-year-old cousin was diagnosed with Luekemia.

Best of luck to Chuck and his friends.

Blizzard nostalgia: Starcraft 2 soon, Diablo 3 in the works.

I haven’t written anything about gaming lately and I’ve wanted to write about Diablo III‘s announcement for the past few weeks. I kinda missed the boat on timeliness, so I won’t talk about it too much.

I think it’s interesting how Blizzard is planning their development cycle. If you recall back to early 1998, when Starcraft was launched, they also announced that Diablo II was in the pipe.

Fast forward 10 years. Starcraft II is due for launch in Q4 this year, and Blizzard officially announced Diablo III. It’s clever, and I think it does a lot to communicate with Blizzards VERY loyal audience.

It’s somewhat nostalgic; it reminds me of the last summer in which I didn’t have a full-time summer job as a teen. I spent a lot of my free days playing Starcraft at a friends’ house over his home LAN.

When done well, this kind of cyclical development builds an emotional connection between gamers and their games. Particularly for a developer like Blizzard that launches hit after hit, which practically spawn cultural revolutions in the video game world. I think it’s smart.

I’m going to finish with a list of some of the games I’m into these days.

  1. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (Nintendo DS) – I’m on the last level. I just haven’t picked it up to play in a while. Might bring it with me on the street car today.
  2. We Love Katamari (Sony PS2) – The sequel to Katamari Damacy. Definitely the goofiest and most fun game I own. It’s a tough title to find these days. I just happened to visit EB games and ask about it on a day when they had copies.
  3. Megaman X Collection (Sony PS2) – I picked this up the same time I bought Katamari. Takes me back to the old Super Nintendo days. It’s wicked fun platform action.
  4. Half-Life 2: Episode 2 (PC) – I’m also on the last stage of this episode. Just haven’t sat down in weeks to finish it. Maybe I’ll do that this week.

Thanks for reading!

Gaming vs. Blogging – FIGHT!

This week.. gaming won.

I haven’t done much posting this week because I bought the Half-Life 2 Orange Box last weekend. I must say, if you’re at all inclined to buy it, just do it. It’s amazing gaming value. This isn’t a new product, it came out Fall 2007. But I waited until I finished my school program before buying it.

For the uninitiated, the package comes with:

  1. The original Half-Life 2 game
  2. Half-Life 2: Episode 1
  3. Half-Life 2: Episode 2
  4. Portal
  5. Team Fortress 2

That’s a LOT of game time for only $40. I purchased it through Steam, the online game retailer run by Valve, the creator of Half-Life. A quick download of the game, and I was playing parts of the package within an hour – less time than a two-way trip to the closest Future Shop.

I began with Portal – I’d played a bit of the Xbox 360 version when my nephew rented Orange Box a few weeks ago. Portal is a 1st person puzzle game, where you solve stages by using various portals that you and certain objects can pass through.

Portal is incredibly well made, well written (the computer says some really funny things), and it will mess with you your mind. It’s not a long game, and I finished playing through it in probably two or three hours. After you finish it, it unlocks the challenges – an added level of difficulty. You have a goal to beat the levels in a certain time limit, or with a limited number of portals. You can buy Portal as a stand-alone for $20 on Steam, even if you’re not interested in HL2. I give it a solid “Buy it” out of 10.

I’ve also beaten HL2: Episode 1. It was good, but short. If you’re a fan of Half-Life 2, play it, because it continues the story line and develops the relationship between Alyx Vance and Gordan Freeman that started in HL2. I’m glad I didn’t buy it as a stand-alone when it came out.

I started playing Episode 2 last night, and it is FAR better than Episode 1. The character models were upgraded, there are new foes, and the plot is longer and more immersive. I’m looking forward to seeing where else the game goes.

Team Fortress 2 is a riot. I love the cartoon-y graphics. The new levels are very good. The game balance is different than previous Team Fortress versions, and requires different play style. All-in-all I’m pleased, and can see it being a staple for boring evenings at home.

If you have Team Fortress 2 and want to connect with me on Steam, look me up. I’d lvoe to play a few rounds.

http://steamcommunity.com/id/RaWeiss/

Review of Audiosurf

I bought Audiosurf the other day, a casual music-based game from BestGameEver Interactive Game Design. It’s available on Steam for $9.99 USD. I recommend downloading the free demo to try it out for a limited number of plays.

It’s not a rhythm game; your performance has no impact on the playback of the music. Audiosurf lets you “surf” your own music library. You fly along the track, bumping into blocks of various colours. You make sets of three or more blocks of the same colour and they disappear, giving you points. You’re scored based on the size of the combos and the colours they’re made of. You can compete with other players for the top score on songs in an online scoreboard. Want to add to the scoreboard quickly? Play a song that nobody’s used before!

The best feature of Audiosurf is the ability to load your own MP3s, WMA, OGG, Flac, CD and iTunes Deluxe tracks. It’s challenging, and that’s what makes it fun – if you choose the right song to play. The tempo and complexity of the music is reflected in Audiosurf, so your experience varies widely between tunes.

Gameplay involves only your mouse, and the controls are simple.

My largest complaint about the game is it’s initial load time. When opening the game, it takes me upwards of 45 seconds to reach a clickable menu. While, my computer isn’t cutting edge, it’s not far off the average user’s. I also find the shutdown time of the game is a little slow too.

Once into the game, songs load very quickly, so the near-minute load time isn’t a big deal if you’re playing for 20 minutes at a time. But popping into the game to play a single song can become tedious.

I give this song a solid “Try The Demo”. It’s good game, well crafted and enjoyable. With a price tag of just $10, you might end up wanting to buy it.

PS3 or XB360

It’s a big question right now. A lot of people are debating which is the better buy. Leo Laporte and friends debated this question on the most recent This Week in Tech (TWiT).

I’m not going to answer this question here, I’m asking it myself. But I’ll share what I think are the important cases for the argument based on my knowledge of the consoles.

XB360:
It’s established with a large game catalogue. It now includes high-def HDMI outputs for those with supporting displays.
The Xbox Live network is well established and offers a plethora of downloadable content. Microsoft has, to my knowledge, developed the XBL network to a greater degree than the Playstation Network.
The XB360 functions as a media expander to access media content from your home PC in your living room across your home network.

PS3:
Playstation 3 is the the more powerful console, purely from a hardware perspective. The Cell processor seems more flexible and robust than the chip in the Xbox. PS3 has the SIXAXIS controller which allows for motion sensitive control in games that utilize it.
PS3 includes a BluRay drive – if you want to be an early adopter of this disk format it may be an attractive feature. Movies on BluRay are considerably more expensive than DVD, and on a typical TV and sound system you won’t see much of the benefits they offer. Videophiles with the latest gadgets and large high definition displays might want this.
The PS3 also has built in wi-fi and a plethora of media inputs from USB, MemoryStick, SD memory, and even Compact Flash. There’s no media centre interface with home PCs.

My conclusion:
It’s hardly a conclusion.. But it might help you decide if you’re considering buying one of these systems (but not both!).

PS3 has a lot of future possibilities. Greater processing power, support for 1080p resolution, XB360 only supports 1080i. It has BluRay. It has SIXAXIS motion sensitive controllers.

XB360 is the better gaming system right now. It has more available titles right now, it has a highly developed online community for you to play games with, and download content.

Please point out anything I’ve forgotten. Argue my points, or just share what you’ve bought, or are planning to buy.


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