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CURRENTS
Issue #125
January 22, 2013
Active Time Belligerence
Front Page

The new year has brought a number of radical changes for yours truly, but I've managed to keep up with all the resolutions so far. The book I've been working on is in the homestretch and will be published in the near future (I'll share more details as they become available), I've taken-up boxing and so far have only received one black eye, and I've actually finished two games from my staggeringly large backlog. Hopefully, your 2013 gaming progress is coming along just as well.

Enough talk though. More action!

Go Joe!

Final Fantasy: All the Bravest is now here, and yes — it is an iOS title revolving entirely around the ATB system. Combat is performed by touching a large group of characters and there is no "Game Over" screen as your characters respawn in real-time (one resurrection every three minutes). The main game is priced at $3.99, with further levels available for $3.99 and randomized premium characters like Cloud Strife available at $0.99 a pop.

The microtransaction-heavy gameplay has been pretty divisive among fans and really speaks to the current pay-to-play models of the mobile industry, so I polled the staff to see where people stood on the nostalgia-milking experience. As you can imagine, many are more turned-off by Square Enix's business approach than the gameplay itself:

  • Michael Cunningham:
    Final Fantasy: All the Bravest is Square's answer to Angry Birds. The biggest offense is not saying so from the start. Is it too much to want a nostalgia-filled game with tons of Final Fantasy characters tossed together to actually be an RPG?

  • Alex Fuller:
    It's not something I would ever have been interested in any way so there's not exactly much to complain about apart from them wasting time making stuff that interests people that aren't me. Jerks (sarcasm, of course).

  • Michael Apps:
    I think it's lame, especially with DLC being random. Although, I am glad that at least they are doing more new iOS content as well as ports. I'd try it if it had a demo version. Seems like they should have gone the Theatrhythm/Dimensions route and make it free so they can just make money off DLC.

  • Becky Cunningham:
    As I haven't played the game, my only official opinion is that the sales model sucks, especially the random characters and charging for revive items. I'm not really interested in playing either; from the gameplay footage I've seen it looks fairly tedious.

  • Jonathan Yearworth:
    I may be a Square Enix fanboy, but I'm not interested enough in it to really care either way.

  • Paul Engemann:
    It should have been a beefed-up proper handheld release sans silly microtransactions. They could still release it as a download only game on PSN or Nintendo Network with all the DLC and I'd probably check it out.

  • Adriaan den Ouden:
    I don't have an iOS device so I haven't played it, but my impression from the videos I've seen is that it's an insipid piece of garbage designed entirely as a cheap cash-in on the series.

  • Michael Baker:
    Looks better than Emperor's SaGa, but that's about the only compliment I can give. It might be interesting to mess around with for a few minutes, but I don't really see the point aside from nostalgia and the gachapon-style microtransaction thing is always a negative.

  • Emanuel Merino:
    Any game with a heavy emphasis on microtransactions is a major turn off for me. Even if you don't need to spend money to advance, the gameplay mechanics that often go hand in hand with that kind of monetization is what turns me away. For example, waiting for energy to replenish, long cool downs on abilities or options, and overly long leveling curves.

  • Trent Seely:
    While I recognize the extreme cash grab that is ATB, I can't help but enjoy this guilty pleasure. Final Fantasy: ATB features graphics that mirror my favourite 16-bit RPGs, 32 warrior squads full of numerous jobs and famous Final Fantasy characters, some of the series' best music, and enough simultaneous battle animations to cause a seizure.

We also had some interesting reactions amongst the RPGamer community as well. Here are a few of my favourite comments:

  • ultraness:
    Square Enix doesn't get it. All they need to do is make an old-school Final Fantasy sequel (like Megaman 9) and release it on a console or the 3DS, and I will buy it. Seriously, it wouldn't be that hard.

  • smacd:
    Has anyone figured out if they can have duplicates when you pay your dollar for a chance to get a new character? I have to admit, I'd find it pretty amusing if Cloud had a 1/256 chance of dropping, like most "rare items" in their games. Double laugh if he's Zodiac Spear rare.

  • Sandy:
    This falls to the same category of those "game picture gallery" apps — you basically pay money to look at pictures that you can view for free online. Absurd, I know, but some people buy them. And as they say, he's not dumb who sells but he who buys.

  • SiliconNooB
    This looks like an abortion.

  • Drav
    If I didn't already know it wasn't a real game I would probably want to play it. Of course the "game" version of this already exists, and was called Ogre Battle.

I recently wrote an editorial centred on women in video games. The major complaint I had with the way female characters were portrayed in most video games was actually a problem of presentation. That is, they were often presented as being unintelligent, victimised, infantilized, oversexualized, and at times completely underrepresented. One of the common themes I saw in the community discussion that followed was a critical look at the demographic of males that was typically responsible for the development of video games that often misrepresented women, citing an overabundance of heteronormative males choking out the very few female developers. Recently, EA's Executive VP and Chief Talent Officer opted to write an opinion piece for Forbes which ostensibly called that opinion unfounded.

It is her assertion that, when it comes to sexism in video game studios, there's a big disconnect between perception and reality. According to Gabrielle, the solution starts with women. "It's easy to blame men for not creating an attractive work environment — but I think that's a cop-out. If we want more women to work in games, we have to recognise that the problem is not sexism."

In the article, she lists three "dirty little secrets" about women in games: (1) women play games — a lot of them, (2) the video game industry wants to hire them, and (3) there aren't enough to hire...yet. While her comments ignore some of the gender equality industry issues put forth by the female twitterverse using the #1reasonwhy hashtag back in November, they do offer some insights into how the industry feels about a diverse workforce and how much companies like EA desperately want female developers to join their ranks.

She encouraged women not be put off by slanted reports of sexism and under-representation and instead to join the industry when it is at its "most dramatic point of change in its history." Hopefully, female gamers will take her advice and that workforce diversity will be seen in-game.

Source: Forbes

Interestingly enough, EA and Bioware are currently under heat for both the inclusion and segregation of same sex relationships in Star Wars: The Old Republic. The new options to romance "companion" NPCS will apparently be restricted to one planet, itself part of the content only available to paying customers rather than those taking advantage of the game's free-to-play sections, upsetting both those who campaigned for and against their inclusion.

While these "same gender relationships" (SGRs, as the developers are referring to them) have been on the agenda for a while, their inclusion in the galactic MMORPG had been delayed up to this point by the transition from subscription to free-to-play online content model. Normally, the phrase "better late than never" would be apt, but EA and Bioware's approach to these relationships is fairly questionable. The option to engage in relationships with NPCs of the same gender will be introduced as part of the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion, but even once that update is paid for players will only be able to participate in SGRs on one planet: Makeb. This decision to include SGRs in gameplay has of course infuriated religious and homophobic groups, but the exclusionary approach taken by EA and Bioware have also left those who wished to pursue those engagements feeling marginalized. Some LGBT groups have even gone so far as to accuse EA and Bioware of segregating them to a "gay ghetto" planet.

Personally, I'm pretty disappointed that things have come to this point in the first place. EA and Bioware have both been lauded for the inclusionary approach to sexuality, but SGRs wouldn't have been an afterthought to be bundled into a paid expansion if equality was truly their first priority. Furthermore, it likely would have been smarter to hold off implementing SGRs until they were capable of making them galaxy-wide. It's one thing to ask your gaming audience to pay for content, but it's another to ask them to pay for exclusion.

Source: SWtOR Blog

Disney has officially announced Disney Infinity, a new platform of interconnected video games that will leverage the company's large roster of famous characters from films past and present. Taking a page out of the Skylanders playbook, collectible action figures will be integrated into gameplay, allowing players to unlock new environments and characters. Each retail "Play Set" will come with its own toys and accompanying storyline, but gamers young and old will also be able to mix characters, settings, and props from a wide variety of Disney IPs and share the resulting universes online for other gamers to dive into. Itís a brilliant way to sell toys as well as a sign of the times.

When Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure was first announced, I scoffed. All due respect to Toys For Bob for developing such a well established IP as Skylanders, but the concept of selling little plastic toys by selling a video game just seemed so foreign to me. The starter pack of Spyro's Adventure had three characters to play with: Spyro, Trigger Happy, and Gill Grunt. You'd think that would be enough for most gamers, but the company had kids on the hook when they introduced a total of thirty-two standard characters, each falling into eight different elements, to collect and play with. In retrospect, how could they not have been interested in expanding their collection?

And collect they did. As of June 3, 2012, the game had been the top selling console and handheld video game worldwide for the year, also boasting over 30 million Skylanders toys sold, with overall sales set to exceed $500 million by the end of the year. With numbers like that, how could Disney not get interested in the toy-based gaming market?

One has to question how long it will last though. This isn't the first time physical peripherals have affected the sales of an Activision game. Guitar Hero was a massive success for the company and started an industry trend of music-based games using non-traditional controllers. Yet, here we are in 2013 and there isn't a peripheral music-based game in sight. Toy-based gaming may be great fun right now, but how long can this trend realistically last?

Source: the Verge

Does it ever suck to be a Square Enix fanboy these days. Back in December, Square Enix quietly announced a title it had originally trademarked back in September: Circle of Mana.

Being a pretty massive Holy Sword Legend (Mana) fan, I got my hopes unreasonably high for what ultimately was another iOS/Android social game from GREE. In this interpretation, various worlds are connected through the Mana Tree, the now-threatened source of all mana in the world. A holy sword appears, as always, which heroes must use to protect the tree and maintain the balance of the world. In that sense the game is very much Mana, but the unfortunate side effect of it being a GREE title is that it is also reliant on reused artistic properties and card-based gameplay mechanics. Oh, and microtransactions — can't forget those.

Emperorís SaGa was an injustice when it was originally released, and I can only assume Circle of Mana will be essentially the same game with a palette swap. Between this and Final Fantasy: ATB, one can only assume that Square Enix's strategy moving forward will be to cash in on nostalgia using treasured RPG IPs as the basis for crummy iOS titles and neglect console and portable releases that aren't action/adventure titles. Sigh.

Source: Siliconera

  • Politicians vs. Video Games
    At the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, former Stamford mayor and current Governor of Connecticut Dannel P. Malloy criticized the entertainment industry for destigmatizing violence, leading to the Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown. Research on media violence has historically been inconclusive and suffered from serious methodological flaws, but Malloy's critical statements just happen to coincide with the recent release of reviews by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the governments of Australia and Sweden. They all came to the same conclusion: there is no link between video games and violence.

  • Atari U.S. files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
    Yes, the brand once associated with the likes of Pong, Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, and numerous other classics has filed petitions with three of its affiliates for Chapter 11 reorganization in an attempt to make a clean break from their French parent company, Atari S.A., who is believed to be in debt. Over the next 90 to 120 days, Atari expects to sell numerous IP assets and obtain $5.25 million in debtor-in-possession financing from funds managed by Tenor Capital Management. If successful, Atari U.S. could emerge with its own resources and a new lease on life (likely with a higher priority on digital content and the mobile market).

  • Awesome Official Nintendo Calendar
    There's no crowd so apt to embrace nostalgia like the gaming population. A Reddit user by the name of Hickspy recently uploaded a gorgeously preserved, retro gaming calendar to Imgur. The catch? It's from 1991. While it's use might be limited going forward, that didn't stop the Reddit community from drooling over the beautiful artwork and arguing about how many different calendars you would have to purchase, accounting for leap years, to be set for life. Current consensus is fourteen.

Sources: Connecticut Post, LA Times, Reddit

That's it for this week of currents. Now you know that politicians don't read studies before they make partisan comments, Chapter 11 doesn't necessarily mean shuttering the doors of your business, and that GREE makes everything worse. And knowing is half the battle.

Your dork from the Great North,

Trent Seely

Stalk me on Twitter: @InstaTrent

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