Reading roll call
Another week, another reading assignment. What, you thought because it was the holidays So, That Happened was gonna cut you a break? Sorry Charlie, we've still got six fascinating articles about virtual reality, gaming with disabilities, arcade pioneers, and more to peruse with gusto. And after that? Two games and an advent calendar to make sure you get the picture. We're gonna make you a lean, mean, game-considering machine by the New Year.
Now drop and give me 10 clicks!
Photo by the U.S. Army
Oculus Primed: Meet the Geniuses Who Finally Mastered Virtual Reality
"Chris Dixon was among four people from Andreessen Horowitz who saw the newest prototype. 'Id tried the devkit and thought it was really impressive, but the latency wasnt quite there in my opinion,' Dixon says. 'Going and seeing the new prototype gave me confidence that they were going to solve all of those problems. I think Ive seen five or six computer demos in my life that made me think the world was about to change: Apple II, Netscape, Google, iPhonethen Oculus. It was that kind of amazing.'"
If you're not excited about Oculus Rift yet, you either haven't been paying attention or you've already tried it and nearly puked your guts out from motion sickness. This Wired feature by Peter Rubin on the team behind the virtual reality headset is great reading for both camps. It sets up the garage-soldering history of the headset through its recent $75 million venture capital infusion, up to its current quest: the elimination of perceptible latency.
When I first used Oculus Rift, I was most struck by the 3D--two fish-eyed screens for two eyeballs made the best 3D display I'd ever seen. But that's actually the easy part. To make users feel immersed in the experience instead of trapped in it, Rift has to take into account natural head movements. It's fascinating to read about all the tricks the team is using to make what was already an impressive experience usable for even the most motion-sickness prone people.
Photo by GamesRadar. Hi Lucas!
Enabling the Cause of Accessibility
"'It was largely believed that gamers with disabilities were a small segment of the gaming populace and there was nothing that could easily be done,' he says. The reality is that there are more gamers with disabilities living just in the United States than there are people living in Canada, period (more than 70 million, according to Steve). 'We actually have video of people declaring that they had never thought about gamers with disabilities, even if they themselves had a disability.'
Video games ask much more of their consumers than any other medium. Instead of flipping pages and scanning lines, or just watching and listening, players have to push buttons, follow action, and make decisions. That's part of why we love them, but it's also why those who make them have to take great care to make sure everyone can enjoy them.
This Unwinnable feature by Patrick Lindsey highlights AbleGamers, a charity that pushes for greater accessibility in games. It calls for developers and publishers to add simple options like rebindable controls to their games as well as more involved measures, like text-to-speech or alternate input options. Even as we get giddy over the prospect of new ways to play like Oculus Rift, we have to remember that not everybody can take advantage of them as-is. With a little more mindfulness from creators and players of all kinds, that can be minimized.
This Game Industry Pioneer Never Gave Up on the Video Arcade
'I felt like defending something is a much stronger emotional thing than going and slaughtering people for no reason Youll do crazy things for someone else that you would never do for yourself.' Instead of just blasting down enemy ships, in Defender you had to rescue humanoid astronauts that would appear on the screen. Having to attack and defend created, in Jarvis telling, a game that was sort of like chess, a 'rich tactical and strategic experience--what are the most important things happening right now?'"
You might not know Eugene Jarvis' name, but you're probably familiar with his work. The creator of Defender and Robotron 2084, who also happens to be the next recipient of the Pioneer Award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, is the subject of this engaging Wired profile by Chris Kohler. Jarvis' love for games began with a childhood fascination with pinball, and he's stuck to the arcades even as the industry shifted to home consoles.
Jarvis' climb through the ranks of Atari and then-pinball company Williams is a great narrative of a forgotten part of the video game industry. It's humbling to remember that many of the great early game creators had been working on punch cards just years before. If not for Jarvis and his colleagues' endless passion for the medium, things would be very different today.
Photo by Matt Grommes
Why Ubisoft Delays Games
We tend to favor what the people who make the games want to do in this company. Not every company behaves that way, he said. But yes, sometimes you delay a game and you hope its going to get better, and you make the wrong decision, because you still cant fit a square peg in a round hole. You would have been better off just shipping as opposed to continuing to invest. We tend to be guilty of continuing to invest, probably, more often than others, because thats sort of the promise of people who work at Ubisoft. We give a lot of creative freedom. Thats why we put out so many new brands, by the way.
It's normal for a publisher to delay a few games here or there. But when Ubisoft delayed both Watch Dogs and South Park: The Stick of Truth out of 2013, and MMO racer The Crew deeper into 2014, people got worried. Voicemail messages were left. Doors were knocked on. Emergency personnel were notified to keep an eye out for jumpers from Ubisoft's Paris headquarters.
But Ubisoft's North American president Laurent DeToc told IGN's Andrew Goldfarb it's all a part of the publisher's business plan. The long-term ends--say, building enough goodwill to turn Watch Dogs into Ubisoft's next Assassin's Creed--justify the short term means of losing out on holiday sales. It's tough to believe that a publicly traded company is quite as creativity-driven as Detoc describes, but it's still an interesting look into an unusual company.
Grand Theft Auto V: An Ugly Journey Through a Beautiful World
"When GTA III fed us pat crime caper clichs as a framing device for missions that boiled down to 'kill or be killed,' we accepted it. Not only did it represent a leap forward for gaming in 2001, the whole affair was all set in a world that looked and behaved as primitive as the knucklehead dialogue. In GTA V, though, the world has become far more convincing, yet the story and objectives are as clumsy as they were in GTA III. In this new setting, GTA's standard material feels practically atavistic."
I haven't played Grand Theft Auto V yet--I'm waiting for it to come out on PC and/or the new systems within the next year (it's gonna happen). But I already know how I'll play it, because this is how I play all GTA games: do the first few missions then make my character wander away from his friends, family, and narrative as if on an urban spirit journey. After I've covered the world with wrecked car chassis and blood stains (mostly my character's blood, because I can't get enough of GTA's physics-enabled tumbles) I'll binge the mission lines until I end up hating them and myself in a self-destructive quest for completion.
Jeremy Parish describes a similar approach in an opinion piece for US Gamer, and voices his frustration at Rockstar letting its mission design and writing stagnate as it quixotically pursues cinematic aspirations. But I think Parish might not give Rockstar enough credit: maybe the characters and missions are all so cynical because Rockstar doesn't like them either, but their creators know the sandbox won't sell without them.
Launching Operation Supply Drop
"After losing himself back into the world of video games, he decided to turn his mind to writing about them, joined up at a website and then eventually started his own. In the process he rediscovered the healing power of video games. The ability to lose himself in a virtual world, to pick up a game and play for hours that seemed like only an instant. This allowed him the space he needed from his trauma to process it, reorganize and rediscover himself. Over time, he re-centered and felt capable again of living a civilian life. And he saw, through video games, his chance to make a difference for others."
There's a good chance you've already heard of Operation Supply Drop, but, if you're anything like me, you had no idea the entire operation was run almost entirely by one man. That man, Capt. Stephen Machuga, goes about sending shipment after shipment of video-game-stuffed care packages to soldiers in the field, all from his living room. But this Polygon feature by Russ Pitts doesn't stop at the boxes stacked around his house.
These games aren't just fun diversions, Machuga points out. The hurry-up-and-wait lifestyle of a soldier in the field means hours of inactivity--not rest, because who can really rest when you could be under fire in the next moment?--are punctuated by moments of chaos and terror. Games give them something to do. More than that, they can provide the space soldiers may need to distance themselves from trauma and, eventually, recover from it. That's a much better reason to waste time in Skyrim than I've ever come up with.
Photo from Operation Supply Drop
The Day the Laughter Stopped
I can't reveal too much about this one other than it has something important to say in a way that reached me. Not in an overbearing maudlin way, like you might be expecting from a black-and-white interactive fiction game, just in a matter-of-fact way.
alienbill advent calendar 2013
What better way to celebrate than with an Advent Calendar full of goofy HTML5 toys and games? Most of them don't have anything to do other than click and drag until fun seasonal stuff happens, but that's good enough for me to keep checking back until Christmas.
ROM Check Fail
NES Remix is fine, but ROM Check Fail did it years ago. If you somehow haven't checked out this brilliant mechanical mash-up of Mario, Spy Hunter, Asteroids, Pac-Man, and more yet, please do so immediately (also the Defender ship is totally the best character).
Call and response
Ok, catch your breath. That's a lot of video game thinking to take into your system all at once. Most recruits barely make it past "player agency"--you've got a natural talent for this! While you're out celebrating with the rest of the squad, be sure to drop any reactions or submissions you find in the comments below.