Thursday, January 30, 2014

Off Topic - Google and YouTube

I use to love YouTube, in spite of a few problems it was a great place, simple, and effective. But it didn't make much revenue and needed some help. Along came Google, and I thought this was going to be so awesome.

Well, I was wrong. There, I admitted it, one of my internet predictions, and I have made many over the years, was so wrong I could have lost a bet on it. Google was awesome, at one point. I use the past tense because even though the company as a whole still has a decent attitude, the development online just sucks.

When I first heard of Google+ I thought that was a good idea too, a simple and elegant alternative to the bloated and overrated Facebook. I did not foresee what it would be today. Now Google+ is basically .... Facebook, bloated and overrated, messy, and way too complicated. Then they destroyed YouTube by merging the two.

Here's the thing, the stupid system kept bothering me about "use your real name," well, I don't want to use my real name, my online nickname is my personality, I chose that, let me use that. After trying to update to their new channel layout, which had some good ideas but poorly implemented, I broke it. Yep, I broke their account system. I now have like 4 accounts, 2 emails, and 3 Google+ pages all on account of trying to update 2 YouTube channels.

Great job Google! That was sarcasm, you did a horrible job, you ruined something that was starting off perfect. Now you are trying to do it with everything, even Blogger. I say "no more." I will continue using Blogger, for now, until I either get off my arse and write my own blog site, or you force the lame changes to Blogger.

The things you did wrong:

1. Tried too hard to make it all one system, causing it to become bloated and too complicated for it's purpose.

2. Simplified the wrong things, I mean banners that double as mobile app images? Seriously?

3. You forced software that was obviously not tested onto people who were loyal to the service merely because you wanted to try to stay ahead of the trends.

4. You emulate Facebook and try to force people to use the name you think they should use instead of allowing them to use the creative, and personalized, nicknames. Do you know how many Kristina Herrboldts there are in the world? Do a Google search, there are at least 20 in the US alone. How many KittenKoders? 1, only 1, on almost all websites I am the one and only KittenKoder. I made that name, that name is me.

5. Google+ for comments is lame, really really lame. People want to isolate some parts of their online activities, for various reasons, they don't want it all showing up in one feed that pretty much anyone who knows their name can find. That was one of the biggest problems with Facebook and other social sites. Your circles are nice, but not a solution to the problem.

6. Merging everything into one. If we all wanted one system for everything, we wouldn't be online, period.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Unknown Future - Retro Gaming

The youth are our future, and only through their memories can we live forever.

That thought actually occurred to me a long time ago, back when I was still part of youth. The reality of the situation is that how we are remembered is what we actually are. Our own memories vanish when we die, so the only way to live on is to remain in the minds of the next generation.

So what does this have to do with games? Much more than one would think. I have seen a huge growth in "retro game" fans, primarily because of Nintendo offering some of their greatest hits in the eShop. What makes me happy is to see kids not only playing these games, but actually discussing them intellectually. Offering opinions on the pros and cons of each 8-bit classic.

This says a lot about my generation of geek and nerd, how much we were unappreciated while I was still young made me ask if it was worth the effort quite often. We not only decided what classics were in fact classics, we also became the play testers and developers for games today. But the 8-bit era is a part of history now.

That's the fun part, many people who often don't like history classes in schools, those who sleep during the long boring lectures of wars fought in our past, perk up at the mention of Super Mario Brothers. But Super Mario Brothers is, in fact, history now, it is a part of our culture, and a household name. Everyone knows of the Mario Brothers, even those who have never played a video game. My generation has left it's mark on the world, and we will live forever because of it, but without us geeks and nerds that mark would not have existed.

So our immortality is now guaranteed, even if not by name, we are the pioneers of gaming, the ones to start a glorious new chapter in the world, a chapter where technology exceeds our greatest expectations.

That last part may sound anecdotal, or a sweeping generalization, but it's very true. As a whole, computer technology was very unpopular when I was young, when video games first made their appearance. People considered home computers to be fads, and businesses wrote everything down on paper still. Phones were bound to our homes, and images took forever just to view on a bulky and blurry monitor.

The first video games were simple LCD games with various sprites all burnt into the screen. Each sprite would turn on or off depending on what was happening, and the "world" of the game was small and static. But we loved them, they were fun, when sitting there with nothing to do, waiting for people to fill out long forms in pen. Seeing how popular these games were, enterprising companies began investing in creating more, better, and faster games.

Fast forward today, we have stereoscopic 3D now making an entrance into the world, gaining ground. Video game worlds are massive, mechanics more elaborate, more types of game play than we ever dreamed. All because my generation had geeks and nerds who enjoyed the classics. Even those prior to the 8-bit era are seeing attention now, my generation, the geeks and nerds at least, are etched in stone now. We will be forever remembered as pioneers into a new frontier that resulted in the internet as well, cellphones, portable computers, touch screens and interactive menu systems.

The one drawback is that I fear we have set the bar too high, this new generation will have to cause a drastic improvement in something in order to make their mark, or be lost like those before my generation. I know you young people can do it though, I have high hopes of seeing space travel or complete equality, perhaps a scientific golden age. But it is often the smallest thing that can cause the biggest mark in history.

I know, this was more of a rambling post. Right now I am waiting for Bravely Default to come out in my region, starting a new game would just confuse my tired old brain so I am holding off on gaming news. But yes, Bravely Default will be the central topic of my posts soon, I have it pre-ordered. So patience, I will get back to more gaming specific posts soon.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Violence, Sexism, Porn and ... Games?

I have posted my views, along with the facts, on these issues many times across the internet. But they still keep showing up, and those who find cause to attack video games, specifically, often rely on old arguments that have been addressed, and completely debunked, many times. So I shall gather my thoughts on these matters for this post, and offer a glimmer of fact on these matters.

The common lies often stated are as follows:

1. Violence in video games makes people violent.
2. Images of females in specific clothing styles objectifies women.
3. Porn is bad.
4. There are not enough female heroes in games.

The first one is an ancient argument, thus I will sweep it away first. One simple fact demonstrates how fallacious the statement is: as video game sales increase, crime decreases across the country.

Specifically about the US, but this fact destroys that first point because it demonstrates that there is not even any correlation to video games and violent crimes. If there is a correlation, and if correlation could prove causation, then the opposite of that statement would be true. So there is no possible way in which video games can cause violence in anyone who is not already prone to violent behavior.

The second annoys me, though it's fallacious and just plain stupid, because it also says that the way I choose to dress is somehow wrong. I love wearing miniskirts and light blouses, tees, or other less prudish clothing. Is it wrong that I choose to wear these? Does my wearing these make me a slut? No, quite the contrary, my motto is "you can look, but if you touch I will have your hand on my wall."

If an asexual person, like myself, can admit that these clothes are really cute, then why can't sexual people admit it as well? But the evidence of why this second point is fallacious is another very simple fact: cultures in which women are forced to cover all their skin also demonstrate the highest number of rape cases.

Looking more into that, the Middle East countries have outlawed any woman to show "too much" skin, and yet to them women are nothing more than sexual objects to please their man. So no, less clothing will not cause men to objectify us any more than they already do. But men are not the only ones to objectify humans, women who often complain about images that they don't like tend to objectify men just as often. They are asserting, by claiming that images of any particular type will cause men to behave in a negative manner, that men are nothing more than ravenous beasts who cannot control their own behaviors.

The third claim is so silly that I can't help but snicker each time I see it. Personally, I dislike porn, I see no value in it. Sexual activity of any sort bores me, actually. But porn is neutral, meaning it doesn't influence behavior. When asked to show scientific evidence to back up the claim that porn can cause harm, all they show are anecdotes peppered with their own personal desires, not any actual evidence. There is no evidence that porn, or sexual content, is in any way harmful. If you doubt me, them prove me wrong, send me real scientific evidence to support your argument.

The fourth point can almost be considered valid, almost. The problem is that it misses one major aspect to the market, it is dominated by male players. When playing a game you like to put yourself in the shoes of the hero, you become that hero in your imagination. So to appeal to the market they have to make most of the heroes male. They need to appeal to the market to gain profits, profits that allow them to make more games for the fans to play.

I would love to see more heroines, many times they are really strong figures and powerful characters, offering us something to look up too. But that cannot be the case until the female players dominate the market. This is actually happening too, a decade ago you could talk to almost any male about games, but finding a female gamer was difficult. Today you can find female gamers in almost all gamer groups.

If you ever see these arguments posted anywhere, ask them for scientific evidence. If they cannot produce any then dismiss their argument as foolish and move on. Enjoy your gaming, enjoy your porn too if that's what you like, but if you don't like something, then just leave it lie.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Conundrum of Region Locking

Lately I have seen many complaints about Nintendo having region locking on their systems, likely because they keep the newest ones hack resistant. The complaints on their own are understandable, it can suck for some people, but the way in which the complaints are worded makes me realize one problem: Few people know why region locking exists.

The problem is not cut and dry, Nintendo didn't wake up one morning and say "it would be a great idea to keep some regions from getting games!" On the contrary, it's not even their fault. They gain nothing, as a company, with region locking. So you may ask why they do it, it's because they have no choice in the matter.

First there are the hardware problems. Regions are typically one specific format or another, all other formats are considered alien, and so in the past they had to develop everything based on the region itself, a television that was made for PAL could only understand PAL in other words. Luckily this aspect is becoming a thing of the past as most hardware is no longer bound by such restrictions, but before then the costs to develop for all regions was four times that of one. The effect will be discussed in a moment.

So there is one roadblock, though that one is fading, now we face the next roadblock: Content

Each country has it's own, often ignorant or prudish, idea of what is considered legal content in media. The rating system was suppose to end this problem, but it has only made it more complicated because no one can agree on the same rating system. Games, specifically, are designed to target specific audiences. This means that they must try to keep the ratings the same in all countries. Developers in one country though will make the game based on that country's ratings causing it to get different ratings in other countries.

This means they have to make many different versions, one for each country it's released. Nintendo uses the ratings from the most strict country for each region to cut down on some costs, but it still costs them to make other versions for each rating system. The effect is the same as the hardware problem, the company must invest more money to make the product more widely available. Nintendo simply cannot afford this yet. So they continue to delegate the responsibility to the developers, which makes sense anyway.

However, to make sure they are not held responsible for laws broken, they have to lock your system to the region you claim to be in, this makes sure they are not liable for your buying a product that is deemed illegal by your own government. Yep, the crux of the issue, the governments.

This is the biggest roadblock, governments can sue companies for just about anything they want, and even the US government will harass a company that even tries to upset the apple cart by using laws which should not even exist. This means companies have to appease them, and even pay fees just to put their products on the shelves. If they fail to make the government happy, then they get sued by that government for selling an illegal product.

Nintendo has to pay all these fees, and extra development costs, just to give you, the loyal gamer, a chance to play their games. The company as a whole lost a bit of money, a few bad investments in systems they developed. This means they do not yet have the extra funds to appease the governments in the way that other companies do, like Sony or Microsoft, resulting in them having to dance around laws those others do not have to obey.

Considering all this, the very fact that Nintendo has managed to jump ahead on only one system, is actually astounding. So if you don't like region locking, place the blame on who it belongs, and that blame belongs on you. You control your government, no matter what country you are in, so it is your fault you have region locking, ultimately. Of course most of us don't mind, we just love the games we get and pay little attention to the others, and we can sit idle playing those games all we want. The ones who need this eye-opener are those complaining.

The politics involved in this matter is very heavy, and I could post pages and pages on how badly the US government is doing, even more if I were to look into all the other countries. Just a word to the wise, learn what your government is doing, what it is feeding you, and compare it to what you learn from other people who are in other countries, you may be shocked at how screwed up your laws are.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sales Figures, Profits, and What's Good

I have seen many people pull up sales figures and various other indicators of a product's value. The problem is not that they are pointing to these, but that they don't understand how it describes the value of a product. Many video game fans, specifically those who just don't like Nintendo, will point to Wii U sales and claim Nintendo is a bad company.

Another fallacy I have seen is Nintendo's own president pointing to the forecast being wrong and claiming that the 3DS is somehow failing. Yeah, that's really smart Iwata, why not just say "Nintendo sucks" and remove all doubt?

These are fallacies, not because they are inherently wrong or lies, but because they are misrepresenting the information. 3DS did not do as well as they had hoped, that is the fact. This does not mean it is unpopular or selling less than other systems, all other indicators actually state the opposite. The Wii U, one of the two systems Nintendo sells, is having trouble gaining traction. This does not mean Nintendo is in trouble or a bad company, all other indicators state otherwise.

So what do all these numbers and all this data mean? On their own they mean .... nothing. They are completely meaningless on their own. A sales projection will never be perfectly accurate, and often real sales will fall short. The projections are what are shown to the investors to show confidence in your own product. That means you will want them to be a bit higher than realistic, but not so high as to demonstrate arrogance. If the projections are, say, 20% above the actual sales, the investors can safely chalk it up to hopefulness. If the projections are 50% above the actual sales, then you have some explaining to do, but if the sales at least recover the investments, it's a good product.

I know, this makes the projections seem almost inconsequential, and often they are. Always remember, don't panic. Most companies fail, the vast majority in reality, and never even recuperate the initial investments. Investors know this, they play a game of chance when deciding where to place their money by weighing the market and various aspects of the product itself. How well a product does compared to the projections does not tell how good a product is, it only tells what the risks will be involved for future investments.

Sales figures are the key to what is often called "consumer confidence," basically how good something is. But remember, they are not always telling. If you look at a market where only one product is available, and lots of people need it, you cannot use sales as a measure of consumer confidence, because the market is cornered and there is nothing to compare it too. With gaming we have a lot of things to compare it too, and the number of systems entering the gaming market increases every year.

A company is only as strong as it's best selling product, it's least selling product tells nothing of the company's strength. Yep, so the Wii U has no bearing on how well Nintendo does. Stop bringing it up until it outsells the other products. Right now the 3DS is the strongest system for Nintendo, and oddly the entire market. The 3Ds continually outsells all other systems, from all major gaming companies, and holds records in software sales.

The key is the consistency in which this is happening. Since it's release the 3DS, and all it's variants, is producing more sales for Nintendo than any system for any company. Considering the competition that it faces, that's saying a lot. Console gaming is taking a huge hit in sales from the increase in popularity for other platforms. Specifically portable devices that are not inherently designed for gaming. So as a whole the entire industry is balancing out with these other markets, mingling and mixing, thus there will be lower numbers compared to previous generations of similar consoles.

As a whole though, the gaming industry is still doing really well. The reasons for this will stray from the topic, so I will save them for another article. In spite of the balancing out with platforms that are not gaming specific, video games are more popular now than ever, and keep increasing in popularity. So Nintendo did do something awesome with the 3DS, it's a megalith now, a household name and item. I pull out my 3DS in the coffee shop once in a while and have lots of people stop to chat about it, many times I hear "I just got mine, I love this thing." That is consumer confidence that even sales numbers cannot show.

On a final note, someone once said that GTA was "on everyone's list." They had said it was more popular than any game on the 3DS, specifically, in spite of Pokemon X and Y outselling GTA V. The thing is, just because it's "on everyone's list" doesn't mean everyone bought it. If you want your game to be popular, then tell the fans to actually buy the game, then you can claim it's as popular as another.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

World Conqueror 3D: A Game of War

Many strategy games either oversimplify, or over-complicate, the art of war. World Conqueror 3D appears to be the first, on the surface at least. While the battle system between squads is very simplistic, it does capture one element often forgotten in many strategy games, the supply route advantage.

The basic elements of the game are very simple, three units, one defensive, one mixed, and one offensive. A few strategy "cards" as well, that can modify the values and offer a small advantage or clear out one region completely. Of course there are upgrades, for both regions and units, that offer a few more options and advantages. However, the nuance of the game is not in the units themselves or the terrain.

The nuance of the game that is often missed by many who review it is that the regions are not a grid. Meaning, one region can touch five or six others, while another will only have access to two other regions. This is where the strategy comes into play. Placing units on all the regions you control will not work, the opponents will eventually wear them down and take over one by one.

When you first look at the map, find regions that create bottlenecks, where one region controls several routes. Take those, build up a huge number of units there, and hold onto it with all you have. That's one of the strategies, a defensive one, which will force the opponent to waste units on blind attacks just to get those regions so they can progress into your territory.

Taking key regions, like the bottleneck ones, requires a different tactic. One squad of a lot of units will not work, since you can only impact the target by up to five per attack. Thus you use a lot of smaller squads surrounding the target region, making the key regions difficult to defend. The AI surprisingly does that, it's not as stupid as many other strategy games.

As you play more of the campaigns you start to see maps where you have to consider the access points to each one, often allowing the opponent to take a bottleneck while you build up an army to punch through it. The AI considers these advantages, it seems, only holding onto regions that are an asset to it's position while allowing others to be claimed by an opponent.

Now, if you did not catch all I have said to this point, let me assure you that this game is worth the small price they ask. Players who enjoy chess-like games will find this one riveting, as the strategy is entirely positional. The game is well done, in it's own simplicity it offers a variety not seen in many similar games, and enough weighing of odds to keep you playing for hours.

So in spite of some of the negative reviews of World Conqueror, please give it a try before you decide. The demo provides enough to understand the game and how it works, play all three campaigns on that and you will know if it is a game you will enjoy. Enjoy your gaming, and have fun in life.