Culture Archives - Page 4
March 9, 2006
In a few weeks a brand new game for the Nintendo DS is going to be released named Cooking Mama. In the game you play a female chef who has to prepare food, perform various actions such as slicing vegetables and tenderizing meat, cook your food, make sure not to over/undercook the food, and then serve it. And, well, that's about it really. That's right, it's a cooking simulation game on the DS ... and it sounds freaking awesome!
Of course ... this game is only coming out in Japan and there is only a small chance that this game will ever be released in the States. Like so many other "oddball" games which are released in Japan only a very small portion of those games ever end up getting a US release. And once again I'll have to buy an import copy of this game and try to figure out all the Japanese text.
What I don't understand is why are so many other countries continuously developing so many of these cool/crazy games? Why does Japan develop such great games such as Katamari Damacy, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!, Seaman, Phoenix Wright, as well as countless others while we get to look forward to the 20th version of Tony Hawk?
But in this version of Tony Hawk the graphics are just a little bit better than last time! You can actually see your skater's fingers! Go buy it right away!!!
It's almost as if games like Cooking Mama have to be released in Japan before they can even be considered for release in the States. I can only imagine what the discussions are like at publishing houses...
Developer: "Let's make a game with blocky graphics and crazy music where you have to roll up everything you can find in the world using a huge sticky ball! And these balls will be used to recreate all the stars in the universe after your father destroyed them all in a drunken bender!"
Publisher: "What the heck are you talking about? Are you freaking insane? Get the hell out of my office!"
Developer: "Well, they just released the same game in Japan..."
Publisher: "Those Japanese gamers are so crazy! I love it! Let's publish it!"
Why do we have to continuously wait for games like this to be translated and released in the States? Why can't an American publisher try something just a little bit risky, create a few smaller "oddball" titles each year and see what happens?
True there is always risk in creating a new game property, but we're not talking about creating the next Half-Life here. I'm talking about creating the next Nintendogs, a fairly simple title which can be created using a small development team and in a short amount of time. The movie industry follows a similar strategy and to great success.
Each year all the movie studios release a couple of "major" releases every year (you know, all those $200 million "event movies" like King Kong and War of the Worlds). However, in addition to these monster movies the studios also release a couple of "independent" pictures as well. Often these movies cover topics not normally examined by larger movies, have much smaller budgets, and take risks (Brokeback Mountain anyone?). Their thinking is that they can often make several of these smaller independent movies for the price of just a single "event" movie and if just one of them "hits" it is more than worth the investment.
Take a movie such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That film only cost $5 million to make and it grossed $368 million worldwide, that is good return on investment. And that is why movie companies will always make indie pictures: relatively small risk and a possibly huge financial reward.
So why can't the American game industry try this approach? True, Valve is making headway releasing games such as Darwinia and Rag Doll Kung Fu, but more publishers need to step up and start taking these sorts of risks. Not every game needs to be a sequel or a licensed property. The Nintendo DS is almost made to create unique titles, but yet instead of a Cooking Mama we get to see yet another The Sims title released on the DS.
It's almost as if these "oddball" games have to be created overseas first and only then can they be brought over to the States. But I'll tell you right now, if a game like Cooking Mama was made by EA or Activision for the DS I would purchase that game in a second. I don't need a fancy license (how many Lord of the Rings games can EA possibly make?) or amazing graphics, I am just looking for a good, fun, original game.
Could that possibly be why the Nintendo DS is selling so well? Could it possibly be that people are starting to get tired of the same-old-same-old and looking for a new gaming experience? Who's to say, but I can't wait to cook with Mama on my DS! Get with the program American game publishers!
February 23, 2006
While I was reading through the Gaming Steve Forums I stumbled upon a post where forum member T-BirD listed his entire video game collection of 1168 games. I have to hand it to T-BirD as I have always wanted to list out my entire collection, but I just never seem to have the time or the energy to do this, and I can only imagine how long it took to enter 1168 games into this database.
What I find most interesting on this list (besides the fact that he lists owning fifteen Sega 32X games) is the overview:
Favored platform: PC$29,200 spent on these games? I shudder to think just how much I have spent over the years (for the record I believe that my collection is approximately the same size, just my PC game collection alone is well over 500 games). And then when you add in all the various systems, "gaming" PCs, video cards, and other accessories I've purchased over the years I imagine that I could have instead purchased a very nice car ... or two.
How big is your video game collection? Can anyone beat T-BirD? Or how about this guy?
February 13, 2006
I actually saw this article in Yahoo a few weeks ago but I thought it was worth repeating, good stuff:
What's the bestselling video game of all time?
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Super Mario Brothers is the bestselling video game of all time, with over 40 million units sold. The 26 Mario games have sold an astounding 152 million copies since Donkey Kong came out in 1983. However, Super Mario Brothers came bundled with the Nintendo's NES gaming system, so it had a Microsoft-like advantage in that respect.
But Mario is still sitting pretty, as Super Mario Brothers 3 has sold 18 million unbundled copies since its release. And the bestselling video game console? That would be Sony PlayStation. The bestselling coin-operated arcade game appears to be the one and only Pac-Man.
February 10, 2006
There always seems to be some sort of brouhaha happening in the World of Warcraft, but rather than your standard topics of server lag and endless queues (both of which are still major issues) the latest controversy deals with some very interesting “real world” issues. Over the past two weeks a series of events occurred that centered around a woman who was trying to recruit for her GLBT-friendly (Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) guild. A Blizzard GM saw this recruitment and cited her for "Harassment - Sexual Orientation", stating that her speech violated WoW’s policies. Very shortly after this occurred a large number of events took place, including a much closer examination of WoW's in-game policies and the involvement of the nation's oldest and largest legal group dedicated to the protection of gay and lesbian civil rights, Lambda Legal.
The good news is that it appears that potentially ugly incident has been rectified for the time being, with Blizzard reviewing their policies and apologizing for the event. Although this incident is quite interesting in its own right it is not what caught my attention.
You see something is happening in WoW that I have been patiently waiting for ever since I first read Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. That one day a new nation would appear on the planet Earth, only that this nation would be totally virtual ... and I believe that that day has come. The issue outlined above would have never become such a lightening bolt of controversy and activity if WoW was “just another game”. This issue became a nationwide story because WoW has become a virtual nation of millions and as a virtual nation it is starting to have to deal with larger issues that come with becoming a world power.
So how did this happen and what does it mean? And makes WoW unique and become one of the world's first virtual nations? Much like Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" I too have put together a list of rules which a virtual world must pass in order to become officially recognized as virtual nation.
My first requirement is that a virtual nation must have a visual representation which allows for their inhabitants to express themselves in a social, cultural, and emotional manner easily recognizable by understandable by other inhabitants. WoW easily passes these tests as their 3D avatar system allows you express yourself in WoW. Socially you can talk with others, make both "real life" as well as NPC friends (and enemies), join guilds, go on socially bonding activities such as guild raids and party quests, write letters to one another, sit down to eat and drink with one another and so much more. Nearly all social activities which are available to you in the terrestrial world are available to you in WoW.
This leads to the next requirement, culture, where WoW also passes the test. In fact, WoW might pass this test too well as between all the of holidays in WoW, the extensive world history, WoW-slang, and the thousands of unique animals, plants, food, drink, monsters, regions, languages, races, classes, and so on that I almost need a comprehensive guide to understand it all.
Which then leads us to last requirement of this first rule, the ability to express yourself emotionally quickly and easily. Once again WoW easily passes this test. Between the avatar system which allows for a myriad of animated emotes and expressions to the world itself which allows people to send each other wrapped gifts, dress in a wide range of clothing options and styles, or even the ability to get married in a church, WoW easily passes this test. And with that, WoW passes the first of my rules.
My second test is that a virtual nation must have an economy strong enough to compete and be recognized by the world economy. Once again, WoW passes this test. Not only does WoW have a thriving economy within WoW itself with its worldwide system of auction houses, but WoW Gold has a very real value in the economy of the world. Want to convert your US Dollars, Euros, British Pounds, Japanese Yen, South-Korean Won, Taiwan Dollar, Hong Kong Dollar, or Chinese Yuan into WoW Gold? No problem, there are dozens of web sites which will convert your hard currency into WoW Gold (and back) if you wish. In fact, the WoW economy is so strong that WoW Gold holds its own against these world currencies, so much so that trading in WoW Gold has become a multi-million dollar worldwide business. So WoW passes my second test, it has a strong, far-reaching economy.
Finally my last law, that a virtual nation must have a population large enough and diverse enough to allow for the first two rules to continue to grow and evolve through the actions of the inhabitants of the virtual nation. Sure there are dozens of other MMORPGs that come and gone over the years that might also pass this rule, but none of them have approached the size, scope, and reach of WoW. Currently WoW has a world population of 5.5 million "subscribers" which ranks WoW as the 112th largest nation on Earth, currently between Nicaragua and Denmark in terms of population. Plus, unlike most world nations, WoW has very lax emigration policies, all you need is access to WoW via computer and the ability to pay the fee and you too can join the nation of WoW. This policy has allowed WoW to growth at a breakneck pace of 300,000 - 400,000 new citizens a month. In addition, WoW is not a local phenomenon centered on a single terrestrial nation. WoW reaches some of the largest countries on earth including North America, Europe, China, South Korea, Oceania, as well as many others. In short order there won't be a place on the planet that won't have access to the land of Azeroth. In my book that marks WoW as one of the very few virtual worlds which not only meets but very nearly surpasses this rule.
So what does this all mean? What's the big deal if WoW is a virtual nation? Who cares if a GM in WoW is limiting the actions of a single individual? Very simply put, WoW is becoming something much more than "just a game". It is becoming a land where people can share their thoughts ideas, where they can exchange their cultural beliefs as well as create new ones, where fortunes can be made, both real and virtual, where people can make new friends, meet old friends, fight, and fall in love, where they can express their emotions and explore feelings not normally allowed to them in their terrestrial existence ... in essence, WoW is becoming a land very real and very important to millions of people. WoW is becoming a virtual nation.
What is truly interesting is that WoW is becoming something much bigger than even Blizzard might realize. They might have created the structure and environment in which WoW inhabits, but it is its citizens which are giving WoW life and allowing it to grow and evolve. So when something as seemingly innocent as a GM preventing someone from recruiting for a GLBT-friendly guild this is no longer a simple action of a GM affecting a life of a single user. This is a far-reaching issue which affects the lives of the millions of inhabitants in the nation of Azeroth. If WoW was simply “just a game” this incident would have gone unnoticed and would have affected only a small handful of people. But as virtual nation with millions of citizens this small incident very quickly became a fireball of controversy with very far reaching and real consequences.
WoW might simply still be "a game" in the eyes of Blizzard, something they created to make money and to entertain people throughout the world. But Blizzard might have done too good of a job when they created WoW. They created a land which much more than simply going on quests and maxing out your character's levels. They have created a land which has its own culture, a land where people feel truly connected and part of world, a land where people spend a significant amount of their time not only to occasionally visit but to live major portions of their lives. WoW has become a virtual nation and as the “owners” of WoW Blizzard has the responsibility to run this nation in a fair and sound manner. Blizzard must understand and realize that WoW is no longer “just a game” and that even the smallest actions can have very real and very significant consequences in the daily lives of millions of people. That to WoW is something much more than sum of its parts.
Blizzard might have set out just to create a game, but they have in fact given birth to virtual nation. And what that means and how that will affect the terrestrial world we are only first starting to discover.
February 1, 2006
It took quite some doing, but I finally managed to track down some solid sales numbers from Japan for 2005, including the top 100 games sold in 2005 (but more on this a bit later). First up we have platform sales (all figures based on Famitsu data from December 27, 2004 to December 25, 2005):
While it is no big surprise that the DS and PSP took top spots in 2005, but what is surprising is just how poorly the Xbox has done in Japan. Sure, we've all heard the stories about how it's not selling, but when you see that the Xbox sold less than half a million boxes since it's initial launch nearly four years ago (and a pitiful 13,186 units in 2005) you begin to fully realize just how poorly it has done. Yikes, let's look at the top ten games of 2005 (note, I attempted to translate the Japanese game names into English):
Perhaps the biggest surprise here is that third and seventh best selling games in all of Japan aren't really games at all but a program which tests your skills in math, pattern recognition, object matching, and other mental gymnastics. That's right; a "game" which involves performing math functions took two of the top ten spots. Do you think that those two games will sell similar numbers when they're released in the US later this year? Considering that the first title will include a version of sudoku, it just might!
The only other big surprise is that six of the ten titles are DS titles. Rarely do portable titles ever make it into the top 10 in the US, except for Pokemon (which was number two this year in the US).
Next up, the publisher breakdown:
For you Nintendo-lovers out there (and you know who you are) you must be beaming with pride as Nintendo is just destroying the competition. Add in the Pokemon brand (which is also owned by Nintendo) and you got 26 of the top 100 titles in 2005 going to Nintendo. And this is not a one time phenomenon; year after year Nintendo dominates game sales in Japan, largely due to their stranglehold on the portable market and their incredibly strong brands (Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, all those titles). Sony might dominate the platform sales with the PS2, but Nintendo dominates with software sales year after year.
Oh yes, and what about Microsoft, EA, Activision, THQ, Take Two, or Ubisoft? Those companies might dominate in the US and Europe but they can't even crack into the top 10 in Japan, and haven't in the past three years (perhaps more, but I could only get sales data for the past three years). Usually those companies are lucky to make it into the top 20 ... or top 30 (Microsoft was recently number 33 on this list, ouch). Culture class indeed.
Finally, we have the motherload, the top 100 games sold in Japan in 2005:
What's surprising about this list is not what is on the list, but what isn't on this list. No Xbox titles, no EA titles, and only a single title made in the US (Ratchet and Clank 4th). And it's not like those companies had to sell a huge amount of titles to get onto the top 100. A mere 128,000 units would get you onto this list, but truth be told those companies are happy if they can sell a few thousand copies of their games in Japan, let alone ten thousand. Very rarely do any American-made games make it into the top 100 any year in Japan.
Of course, this is no big surprise as the best-selling games in the US over the past few years have been sports titles, GTA (which actually does decent sales in Japan, but never in the top 100), and, err, well, games from Japan. So why can games from Japan become top 10 sellers in the US but American games can't even break into the top 100 in Japan? Well, that's the million dollar question isn't it?
One of the key reasons is different in gaming tastes and genres. American developers make some of the best console FPS, sports (American only), and action games around. If you take a look at the top 100 list you won't find a single FPS or American sports title. As for action games, Ratchet and Clank 4th (AKA Ratchet: Deadlocked) does appear as number 70 on the list, and was developed by American Developer Insomniac Games. But that's it, no other American game is on this list. Not even God of War was a top 100 seller.
On the other hand, in Japan they create some of the best RPGs, "simulation" games, horror games, gambling games, and action games around. Not to mention all the various Mario and Pokemon games released each and every year. Except for the gambling games, all the titles I have listed make the culture jump much easier than the other way around. Americans are simply more interested in playing Mario Kart or Metal Gear than Japanese are in playing Quake 4 or Madden. (By the way, take a look at number 60 on the top 100 list, "Jissen Pachislot: Fist of the North Star Plus", which roughly translates to "Fist of the North Star Slot Machine Game". Dude, I would totally play that game!)
It also doesn't hurt that in the US we often get the "best" of what Japan has to offer. Only the top sellers in Japan are officially released in the US, and those games are often carefully translated and localized for American tastes. However, this is not true at all when it comes to American games released in Japan. Often American titles are literally just dumped into Japanese stores with little to no translation at all, and there is little to no "quality control". Both good and bad American games are dumped into Japan, and there are a lot more "bad" games than good. Just imagine if all the games released in Japan were dumped into American stores with little to no translation, how do you think they would do over here?
There is a demand for quality titles in Japan, but it's extremely difficult for the average Japanese gamer to pick the best American games from all the games released. The only real hope for an American title to get any traction over there is for a major publisher to get behind it, like Sony did for Ratchet and Clank 4th.
Other reasons include fierce brand loyalty to Sony and Nintendo, massive competition (many more games are released in Japan than in the US), one too many "bad experiences" with American game titles, American games covering topics average Japanese gamers have no interest in (pretty much all American sports titles), and the simple fact that Japanese developers make some of the best games around.
I go on and on and write a doctoral thesis on this topic alone but I think I got my point across. Japanese gamers want to play excellent games which appeal to them. As soon an American developer takes the time to carefully translate, localize, and adjust the gameplay to suit Japanese tastes (just as they do when they release Japanese games in the States) will American games begin to get any traction in Japan.
My only question is ... when are more of those games in top 100 coming to America? I can't wait for Rogue Galaxy to come to the States!
January 26, 2006
What is it about Katamari Damacy that makes people do krazy things?
Let's see, to date I have been able to find Katamari Hats, Katamari Cake, Katamari YTMND, Katamari T-shirts, Katamari Remote Control Cars, Katamari Papercraft, Katamari Ring Tones, Katamari Cookies, Katamari Cosplay, Katamari Dilbert, Katamari AIDS Advertisement, Katamari Text Adventure, Katamari Play, Katamari Pumpkin, Katamari Car, Katamari Crochet, and a Katamari Pillow.
Whew, that is a lot of Katamari. It really takes a special game to get so deeply embedded into the subconscious of so many people and become a cultural phenomenon. I just hope that we see a few more games so we can get those corporate bigwigs to jump on the Katamari bandwagon and we can become a Katamari Kountry.
January 9, 2006
So it appears that BloodRayne was an unmitigated disaster of this weekend. Not only did it only take in just $1.2 million this past weekend (and that's a generous estimate) but Romar, the company that is distributing the film, was supposed to distribute it to 1915 theaters. Instead is ended up showing in less than 1000 screens this weekend and that hundreds of theaters reported receiving prints of the film that they didn't order; needless to say, they refused to screen them. Not good, not good at all.
So I began to wonder, do "video game movies" ever actually make money? Or are they all nothing more than one disaster after another? So I went to one of my favorite sites Box Office Mojo and put together some numbers. I believe they are all there and they paint an interesting picture, take a look:
Wow, those Pokemon movies sure made a pretty penny. Perhaps Uwe Boll should try to do some animated movies instead. On second thought ... perhaps that wouldn't be a good idea. Maybe it's time that Uwe Boll try out his skill as an air condition repairman or auto mechanic as this film director career doesn't seem to be working out so well.
January 5, 2006
Do you love video game music? Of course you do. Personally I love buying video game soundtracks, but they are often quite difficult to find. Sure you can hope over to Amazon to pick up Halo, Jade Empire, or Kingdom Hearts. But what if you're looking for some best, and most difficult to find, soundtracks of all time?
Well look no further than Japanese import site Play-Asia.com. Not only will you find a huge selection of Japanese games, toys, and movies, but their selection of video game soundtracks is simply astounding. With well over 1200(!) video game soundtracks to choose from you can easily blow a couple of Benjamins in a matter of minutes. Just take a look at some of these choice albums (I feel like K-Tel):
As well hundreds more. Best of all, the prices are quite reasonable (especially considering that they're all import titles). Oh man, that iPod is going to be filled up mighty quick!
November 22, 2005
It was wet and freezing cold, but that did not deter several hundred people from standing in line outside the Best Buy in midtown Manhattan for several hours/days in order to be the first people on earth to own an Xbox 360. Of course Gaming Steve was there covering the event, chatting with the people on line, and getting very very wet. Check out my photo coverage of the event, and make sure to check out my podcast where I interview and chat with the all Xbox 360 devotees pictured here.
The scene of the madness, it doesn't look too bad...
Next to #2 was #3, David Carbone (right), another one of the walking weary.
November 19, 2005
Last week it was reported that anti-game crusader Jack Thompson removed himself from an Alabama lawsuit against the makers and sellers of Grand Theft Auto III. It appears these initial reports weren't quite accurate.
In Strickland vs. Sony, the families of two police officers and a police dispatcher killed by then 18-year-old Grand Theft Auto player Devin Moore are suing Sony, Take-Two, Rockstar, Wal-Mart, GameStop for damages, based on the premise that GTA turned Moore into a triple murderer. The plaintiffs were being represented by Thompson and his legal team.
On Thursday, November 3rd the defense argued before Circuit Court Judge James Moore in Fayette County, Alabama that Thompson should be removed from the case for alleged misconduct. However, rather than wait for the ruling from the Judge -- which could have lead to much embarrassment for Thompson and potentially damaging to his anti-game crusade career -- Thompson simply removed himself from the case on Monday, November 7th. At the time of his departure Thompson told Game Politics, "The other side wants to make me the issue. The important thing is that the clients be served."
Well it appears that Thompson spoke too soon as yesterday Judge Moore ruled on whether or not Thompson could dismiss himself from the case ... and it couldn't have gone much worse for Thompson.
In an 18-page decision Judge Moore excoriated Thompson's professional conduct and outright rejected his attempt to withdraw from the case. Instead, the Judge revoked Thompson's Pro Hac Vice (visiting) admission to the Alabama Bar, which essentially forced him off the case and removed his visiting Bar credentials. In addition, Judge Moore noted that he was referring the matter to the Disciplinary Commission of the Alabama Bar for "appropriate action."
Thompson, as one might expect, was furious and issued a scathing letter to Alabama's Judicial Inquiry Commission, questioning Judge Moore's ethics.
In a profession in which prior actions and decisions carry enormous weight, this verdict could seriously derail Thompson's future anti-game effectiveness. Only time will tell but for the time being Thomson will no longer be able to practice law in the state of Alabama. Thanks to Dennis McCauley of Game Politics for breaking this story and continuing his exhaustive work on this matter.