Posts tagged Games

Facebook Wants To Bring Games To Messenger

In its transformation from simple messaging tool to app platform, Facebook Messenger is fixing to take another step: The social network’s standalone chat app will soon tie into game apps, according to The Information. At least, that’s the gist of Facebook’s latest maneuver. The company confirmed that it’s in talks with third-party developers to bring their games to the messaging service.

The move ticks another checkbox for Facebook as it tries to transmogrify Messenger from a simple communication tool used by more than 600 million people every month to an environment that lets those users run and connect to outside apps. 

See also: Why Facebook Messenger Is A Platform—And WhatsApp Isn’t

At its F8 developer conference in March, Facebook announced Messenger would tie into external apps, such as those for photo, animation and video—i.e., the sorts of media that might naturally fit into a chat tool. The list of Facebook’s early launch partners included JibJab, Giphy, ESPN and the Weather Channel. 

The move into gaming would expand the scope of the company’s integrations, hammering home Messenger’s platform ambitions. 

So far, changes to Messenger have brought in “stickers” (or large, cutely drawn chat graphics), photo messaging, voice and video features, and even payments.

See also: Looks Like Facebook Messenger Is Pulling Up To The Platform

Facebook’s efforts in attracting third-party developers have been numerous, but so far, they seem slow to start. The Information describes the social network’s bid to lasso outside apps as “sluggish,” and it’s not at all clear if gaming will be the salvation the company is hoping for. A lot depends on the details, few of which have emerged at this point—including how the fundamental integrations will work.

Games could run directly within Messenger’s swelling walls, or they could simply use the app to connect players, like some sort of watered-down version of the Mumble chat tool popular among gamers. Facebook reportedly hasn’t decided which path it wants to pursue yet. 

Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

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Now Google Wants You To Play Games While You Run

Google wants Android Wear developers to get fit, to get with the program, to go the extra mile—and to have fun while doing so. And it’s going to show them how.

The tech giant has just unveiled Games in Motion, an open-source smartwatch game that logs fitness data while pitting runners against imaginary enemies. The game, which appeared on the Android Developers Blog on Wednesday, looks like a Google push for more Android Wear apps that more fully exploit smartwatch sensors and other capabilities.

The majority of existing Android Wear games on the Play Store currently rely almost wholly on touchscreen swipes for user interaction. Games in Motion, meanwhile, combines running data and the touchscreen UI to create something new.

Secret Agent, Man

The premise of the game couldn’t be simpler:

Do you ever go on a job and feel like there is a lack of incentive to help you run better? What if you were a secret agent and had to use your speed and your nifty gadget to complete missions?

From there, the game pings your Android Wear device and provides on-screen prompts while you run. The app triggers in-game events based on how long you’ve been running. In one scenario, for instance, you’re only 90 seconds into your run before the game tells you there’s a zombie on your tail.

As you run, Games in Motion will pit you against enemies

Then you’d get to choose an action—here, to blend in by acting like a zombie or to throw an axe at your undead stalker. The choices aren’t equal, though—one equals a defeated zombie, and the other equals mission failure. (You’ll have to play—or read the code—to find out which is which.)

It’s not a revolutionary game mechanic, but it’s interesting in the way it combines a user’s running data with interactive events. Maybe a developer with more creative ideas can take this idea and, well, run with it.

How It Works

Google’s blog post highlights the various Android features Games in Motion uses to realize such scenarios. Android Wear connects runners’ wrists to their phones; Google Play Games unlocks achievements; the Google Fit API logs fitness data; four different Android audio APIs come together to provide in-game speech during audio playback.

Altogether, Games In Motion seems like a novel use of an Android Wear device—even though the game itself may not sound all that incredible on its own. But building an awesome game wasn’t really Google’s aim in the first place, since it posted the game on GitHub for developers to dissect and use as a springboard for their own ideas.

A few existing running apps have already taken a stab at making running more fun. Runtastic’s Story Running, for instance, lets you download audiobook-style stories accompanied by music whose tempo is supposed to encourage you to adjust your pace. The app Zombies, Run!, meanwhile, aims to immerse you (via headphone audio) in a zombie apocalypse that just happens to require a lot of, well, running. Both are effectively smartphone-based, though.

Smoke bombs are just one way to dispatch bad guys who want to get between you and your daily burn.

Google still faces an uphill battle with Android Wear, which has been available since last summer and yet isn’t really lighting the world on fire. Maybe its new sample game will spark developers’ imaginations and spur an Android Wear renaissance. It’s also possible that Android Wear, at least in its current incarnation, simply isn’t cut out for compelling gaming.

Lead image by Frank Kovalchek; Games in Motion images courtesy of Google

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Speaker Profile: Interaxon’s Ariel Garten On Muse, The Art Of Zen—And Mind Games

Wearable World Congress, ReadWrite’s signature annual conference in San Francisco on May 19-20, will feature the key players who are shaping wearable technology and the Internet of Things. This series profiles some of the experts who will be speaking at the conference.

Imagine if you could train your brain to focus more deeply, learn to meditate, and sleep better—all with a wearable. With the Muse headband, that can be a reality.

The brain behind this brain-sensing headband is Ariel Garten, the co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based startup InteraXon. With backgrounds in both fashion design and psychology, Garten envisioned a wearable that was both therapeutic and performance art all at once.

Buy tickets now: Wearable World Congress, May 19-20

In 2012, Garten introduced Muse on Indiegogo, and the pledges poured in, nearly doubling the campaign’s funding goals. InteraXon launched the headband last year, and since then, it has earned rave reviews as thousands of customers use it to gameify their moments of Zen. In advance of Garten’s panel at Wearable World Congress, I spoke with her about Muse, and what’s next for the device going forward. 

Commercially, Muse has been around for eight months now. How are things going? 

We did $3.5 million in sales just in our first few months on the market. The average active uses it 5.8 times per week. We have constant testimonials from people telling us it’s improved their sleep, their stress, their productivity. We have over 50 research relationships going. The Mayo Clinic is about to do a study with Muse on cancer-care patients undergoing surgery, to demonstrate improvements in recovery time by using Muse.

The application for Muse was just relaunched on April 16. It’s the new software version 2.0. It’s a beautiful, growing software program now written in native Android and native iOS.

Does your artistic background continue to influence your work on Muse? What about your background in psychology?

Muse is something that is both technologically very adept, but also a very emotional experience. It translates your brain waves audibly and allows you to listen to the sound of your own mind. It increases your sense of agency, letting you free yourself from the limitations of thoughts that you have in your head. As an artist, that’s what you’re always doing—you’re teaching people to see the world differently, to increase your freedom.

See also: How Mind-Controlled Games Work – And Why It’s Way, Way Bigger Than That

As for psychotherapy, really what it comes down to is learning to manage your own thoughts and your own mind. Our brains are our worst enemies, and we make up stories all the time about what’s going wrong, why we shouldn’t do these things and who doesn’t like us. That causes anxiety. With Muse, you learn to manage those thoughts, so you can become a lot more productive and a lot more successful.

What’s next for Muse?

Using the Muse with NeuralDrift, a collaborative multiplayer neurogame based on brain-computer interfaces, at the Montreal WearHacks hackathon.

We have a big developer community building. The first couple of third party applications for Muse are already in the Android store. We have people who are building clinical applications for kids with ADHD [Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder], and people building games that you play with your brain. For us at InteraXon, Muse will have more apps for getting deeper into yourself, like meditation practice. From developers, you’ll see more apps building off of the world around yourself.

Making brain stuff is hard. The way you give feedback, the way you teach somebody what’s going on, the way you make it accurate—that all makes [building] apps based on brain-sensing technology more difficult. That’s why we’re working on powerful tools for our developers.

However, it’s so worth it. The brain governs our entire experience of life. [Just] look at the problems society faces—one in nine kids with ADHD, billions of dollars lost due to workers’ poor sleep, the U.S. being the most anxious country in the world—or even irrational behaviors based on greed and fear. All of these things begin in our brain. If we have the ability to understand and manage our own cognitive responses, we can solve all of those problems. 

To hear more from Ariel Garten and other innovators and experts, register for Wearable World Congress 2015, May 19-20 in San Francisco.

Photos courtesy of InteraXon

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Bing Partners With NCAA, Will Predict March Madness Games & Help Fans Complete Brackets

Bing will turn its predictive science smarts toward the unpredictable college basketball tournament.

The post Bing Partners With NCAA, Will Predict March Madness Games & Help Fans Complete Brackets appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Europe’s Largest Public School Of Video Games Gets A Major Upgrade

Editor’s Note: This was originally published by our partners at Kill Screen

It’s a cold winter morning at Angoulême, a small town located at the Eastern side of France, and dozens of game developers, students and politicians are about to enter a huge building next to a river. The National Graduate School of Games and Interactive Media of France (ENJMIN) has a new home.

Since 2005, when the ENJMIN started offering graduate courses on game development, much has changed in the game industry. Games have, by and large, become more meaningful, they have a bigger audience now than ever, and they are crossing lines with other art forms more aggressively.

For more stories about video games and culture, follow@killscreen on Twitter.

These changes have also been part of the life of the school, which was founded under the hood of a bigger regional project that has built seven public schools dedicated to creative media in the same neighborhood of Angoulême, a city previously only known for its comics festival.

Building this school from an ancient cigarette paper mill cost 10 million euros ($11.6 million). It was funded by the Ministry of Education of France, the Regional Government and Pôle Image Magelis, the creative media cluster project that France started a decade ago in this town.

See also: Confronting Video Game Torture, After The CIA’S Report

At its inauguration, people gather in the school auditorium to hear game British video game designer Peter Molyneux give the opening speech. He talks about the importance of making mistakes and describes some of his errors when he began his new studio, 22cans, and while making Godus, his latest game. 

“Making mistakes is the most important ingredient in creativity,” he says. Molyneux is followed by a series of speeches by politicians that give their view on how games and other creative media are important to the economic development and cultural heritage of France. They also praise the founder and director of the school, Stephan Natkin, a stubborn professor that had a clear vision for the ENJMIN since its first years.

Apart from the high tech labs, large rooms and the beautiful river view from the project room, the most important elements at any school are the students. After a lunch break, the class of 2014 show game trailers and share some details of their games. 

From a virtual reality climbing experience using the Oculus Rift to a narrative exploring game where you interact with an A.I inside a spaceship, passing through an emotional journey of a fisherman, all of the games are surprisingly polished. The students are all at the end of their two-year Master’s program.

The inauguration ends with a speech by David Cage, one of France’s best-known game developers, and one of the vanguards of narrative video game experiences. After his talk, he decides to stay and spend some time talking to students. He might learn some new things.

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The Sublime Pleasure And Pain Of Cycling And Games About Cycling

Editor’s Note: This was originally published by our partners at Kill Screen

It’s been about two years since cycling changed everything for me. I don’t just mean that I entered an obsessive phase, though that’s also true. Cycling has become a point of reference from which I reconsider daily life. It affects how I eat, dress, and how much time I spend with loved ones.

Cycling makes me think about my body, and other people’s bodies, and what they’re for, and how we build our cities to accommodate those bodies and what they’re for. Cycling changed the way I vote and how I invest my money. 

For more stories about video games and culture, follow@killscreen on Twitter.

When I visit distant and quasi-exotic places best known for their cuisine and art I’m instead interested in the grades of their hills and the presence or lack thereof of wide and accommodating shoulders on their roads. I wear tight and padded shorts often, and miss their reassuring support when I don’t.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that cycling, for me, has been of the same significance as a spiritual or political epiphany. Cycling represents feelings and ideas beyond my control, forces and industries preceding and greater than me. It’s the interface through which I navigate the world. Cycling empowers.

See also: Confronting Video Game Torture, After The CIA’S Report

I know how overblown this sounds to most, as all subjects of intense devotion must be to non-believers. I’ve never felt this way about, say, running, which has always felt a little bit like being mugged inside of a clothes dryer. All the more surprising, then, that cycling would not only be more enjoyable for me than running, but would provide the sensation of profound chemical conversion. After cycling, I’m on a cloud for hours. After running, I quit running.

I’m enabled by government money. I live in a national capitol, with hundreds of kilometers of scenic roads that are perfect for cycling—through provincial parks and over waterways and past heritage buildings like riverfront sentries. What makes this obsession tragic is that my city is also in a part of the world that tends to be bitterly cold and buried under snow for months at a time, barring those perfect riding roads from access on dainty road bicycles.

And winter is here. I am an addict in search of a substitute drug. I’m in need of the perfect cycling simulator.

Chemical Conversion Required

OK, so the obvious: it’s probably unreasonable to expect a sedentary activity like playing a video game to capture the ephemeral pleasures of rigorous motion. But how, and why, is it unreasonable? Can it be true, in this age of intuitive design and meta-design, that games are simply static and sports are simply not? Or am I assuming too much? What is it, exactly, that I want simulating?

To partake in endurance sports, and cycling especially, seems to be a sadomasochistic or Zen-like exercise in perseverance in the face of pain and wear. Sports video games, or at least the cycling games I played, seem uninterested in duplicating these psychological aspects, in exploring the animalistic state to which an otherwise sophisticated person is reduced by hours spent grinding one’s way up hills.

See also: This Virtual Reality Game Tackles The Post-Traumatic Stress Of Surviving Rape

 You may be able to simulate the experience of speed, or the adrenaline rush of a near-collision, or the tedium of strategic planning, but it’s difficult to simulate not just the experience but the mental fortitude required to engage in an activity that often results in open, weeping sores on your ass.

What I’m seeking in a cycling simulator, then, is the paradox of converting effort into accessibility without losing what it means to have lived through effort. I don’t know how this is possible.

You could argue that there are many non-sports games that more closely reflect the skin-of-your-teeth desperation and relentless brutality of endurance sports. Survival horror games like The Last of Us or Resident Evil feel more like a marathon than a sprint; game maker Pippin Barr creates crushingly difficult games where winning conditions are literally impossible to achieve; the Dark Souls franchise has made its name on being uncompromisingly difficult; Kane & Lynch and Max Payne 3 married their aesthetic design to the physical experience of pain and anxiety; Shadow of the Colossus or The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker featured sprawling, often empty-feeling landscapes and long, lonely bouts of travel, unknowingly mirroring the solitude and psychic rigors of endurance sports.

Humor me, though: what would a cycling game that accurately captured the mental and physical trials of endurance cycling look like? A cartoony, Mario Kart-esque racer, complete with power-ups and banana peels and exaggerated crashes (see also:Paperboy, the original arcade cycling simulator)? 

A manager tool, where resource-supervision and incremental equipment upgrades edge you towards competitiveness? A showcase for the graphical prowess of next-gen systems, taking the weather-dependent logistical nightmare that is filming a moving event and removing half of the variables to show only the more spectacular vistas of continental Europe?

While each of the above scenarios might make excellent games in their own right, each would have only coincidental allusions to what I love about cycling, would seem to point, resignedly, to the dry facts of cycling’s existence. I’m looking for verisimilitude, that chemical conversion, that other thing to which I can turn to when it’s February and I have a beard down to my knees.

 Can Pro Cycling Manager Fit The Bill?

To unlock the subtler appeal of endurance sports means taking the time to experience one of its events from beginning to end, for in so doing one understands why the term endurance is required. Watch any five minutes of a marathon and you have none of the context that makes a marathon a marathon. Watch all of a marathon and you can imagine how the physical exhaustion caused by your intense concentration on the television would be magnified several-fold for its runners.

Perhaps this is why the Pro Cycling Manager franchise is built, conceptually and spiritually, around the Tour de France, pro cycling’s signature event, which runs for 21 days in July, and is the equivalent of several marathons in a row.

See also: Call Of Duty Doesn’t Understand Grief—But Then, Who Does?

To appreciate the Tour de France is to contemplate its patent insanity. Its route travels through the Pyrenees and Alps on ascending grades that can only be described as torturous, and over cobblestone streets that pummel the spines of riders with repetitive shocks. Before the era of comfortable bikes and scientific training, cyclists would sprint into bars along the route and drink as much alcohol as they could to dull the pain.

At least 93 professional riders have died on the circuit in various crashes and accidents between 1894 and 2013. On this year’s Tour, Alberto Contador crashed his bike, broke his leg, then took his teammate’s bike and road with a broken leg for nine miles before finally giving up. The break, later revealed to be a fractured tibia, required surgery.

I’m not cherry picking the most sensational events, either. Contador’s crash was only one of about 23 major incidents that year. This on a tour in which tour vehicles share the road with riders, sometimes resulting in car-on-cyclist accidents, and an event in which the hundreds and hundreds of kilometers make meaningful separation of cyclist and spectator impossible

The Tour de France is not a place for reason or logic; it’s both an extreme example and utter distillation of the experience I hope any serious cycling simulator will seek to capture. The Tour de France is spectacle, yes, but also an absurd and vital contrast of hellish human suffering and obscenely beautiful European landscape that allows for meditation on the nature of both human achievement and insignificance in an uncaring and unknowing natural world.

So, yes, my expectations are ridiculous, and no, Pro Cycling Manager Season 2014: Le Tour de France does not bridge the experiences of systematically testing the boundaries of game design and one’s own humanity. Its developers seem stumped—as, to be fair, am I—about how to replicate the grind of cycling beyond what amounts to a series of quick-time events or asking that you mash a button as fast as you can repeatedly. While it has its moments of graphical precision, there is something disparaging about the fact that we have not come all that much further than the NES Power Pad crossed with an Excel spread sheet.

The game consists mostly of 3D simulation. You attempt to control the conditions for your team, and then you watch, keeping track of your cyclists’ diminishing stamina. It’s difficult to get good at, and almost impossible to enjoy.

I think that part of the problem is that the game lacks much feedback for the player; the moment when you instruct your cyclist to attack, it’s unclear whether anything is happening at all. You watch as your team chugs along like marionettes, alongside the other teams, with effortless repetition. The interface is complicated, often non-intuitive, and you rarely understand the results of your decisions. Your only indicators of whether your team is broaching the gulf between mortal man and immortal transcendence are a series of runic acronyms symbolizing … well, I’m not sure.

The irony is that the amount of time I spent in this game simply watching what amounts to 20 minute cut scenes reinforces the cycling-less reality of my wintery life—precisely the reality I am trying to avoid by seeking out a simulator. In my attempt to find the ideal replacement for real world cycling, I was only made more aware of the loss of real world cycling in my life.

The game does a reasonably good job of simulating the strategy of team cycling—insulating your sprinters or climbers from wind resistance, controlling pace to preserve energy, and, most of the time, watching as your riders fall behind. That is, until your team develops attributes, if you possess the patience required or are willing to tweak the speed of attribution in the options menu, a technique also known as “cheating,” and of which I happily availed myself.

It’s not all bad. All of the freakishly random elements attendant a chaotic event—tire punctures on cobblestone, weather changes, a sudden sickness, tweaks to equipment—are included. You are occasionally subjected to the capricious and random nature of outdoor competition, which felt real. You can even feed your riders an energy gel, which, in a game with so little to actually do, takes on the symbolic importance of storming the Reichstag. But ultimately, Pro Cycling Manager is closer to a fixed-rail shooter without the shooting. 

Collisions Are Part Of The Competition

You’ll be tempted to test the boundaries of the game world—can you set off, away from the peloton and through this charming countryside town? Did the programmers place a bakery or church just off the route? Can I ride as fast as I can into the crowd, and if so how realistic are the crowd injury animations? The answer, of course, is that you can do none of these things. The game glues you to the Tour’s inexorable and scenic track, as if you reassert that the televisual and the physical must remain forever apart, alien worlds of paradigmatic difference.

The game is even missing collision detection, so that riders phase in and out and through one another like ethereal representations of cyclists (which, of course, they are). The physical is eliminated altogether. The shadow of cycling—its ghost—flickers prettily on a wall.

If I were trying to be cute, I’d say that Pro Cycling Manager has unlocked “tedium” on the spectrum of simulated endurance. But its winter and there’s snow on the ground, and my bicycle is sitting, wheels up in my den, a symbol of my inverted world. Maybe we’ll have to wait until VR arrives, when a cycling simulator might come packaged with diodes to hook up to your body that stimulate your muscles so that you experience fatigue and strain.

See also: One Of The Most Elaborate Alternate Reality Games Ever Is Launching In 2015

 Maybe the best we can hope for are those spin classes with televisions playing loops of famous cycling courses. Maybe what I’m describing are cheap experiments for niche markets and I just need to find a winter sport that I enjoy. I hear cross-country skiing is nice.

Until then, Pro Cycling Manager Season 2014: Le Tour de France is not the answer. It remains a fascinating contradiction pointing to a dilemma at the center of gaming: an Apollonian approximation of Dionysian ecstasy, a figure, in a spreadsheet, representing the unknowable. Video games like this one invite me into their world, but they don’t seem to know what my world is like.

More From Kill Screen

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One Of The Most Elaborate Alternate Reality Games Ever Is Launching In 2015

Editor’s Note: This was originally published by our partners at Kill Screen

The day of your mission has finally come. You wake up, brush your teeth, pack your bags, go through security, and board your plane. You touch down at your destination, gather your things, and board a shuttle to the nearest train station—only to be arrested by “military personnel” and escorted away cuffed to a mysterious metal briefcase.

But you’re a member of the notorious paramilitary group The Black Watchmen … these kind of things are to be expected.

For more stories about video games and culture, follow@killscreen on Twitter.

No this isn’t reality—it’s alternate reality. The Black Watchmen is one of the latest and more promising entries into this particularly 21st century genre of game: Alternate Reality Games, or ARGs as they’re commonly called.

ARGs began to emerge at the turn of the millenium, defined by their use of transmedia storytelling—think late night text messages, creepy packages at your front door, cryptic videos, and so on—for creating a novel and often highly emotional game experience.

Throughout the game, both creators and players collaborate to suspend disbelief in the name of creating a convincing alternate reality, an aesthetic that’s been termed This Is Not A Game by ARG enthusiasts.

See also: The Year Video Games Got Funny Again

To get an idea of what an ARG is like, and the potentially profound impact it can have on its players, look no further than the mind-bending 2013 documentary The Institute, which told the story of San Francisco based ARG The Jejune Institute. Made by avant-garde artist Jeff Hull, the game lasted for three years and included more than 10,000 participants. Players were first sent down the metaphorical “rabbit-hole” to the game via suspicious flyers that led potential participants to a cult-like induction ceremony hidden in the backroom of a downtown skyscraper.

From there, the story evolved into a five-chapter saga that featured live events such as a 250-person faux-protest against the Jejune Institute through downtown San Francisco, intensive puzzles that led players into the darkest and deepest reaches of the city, and a final “Socio-Engineering Seminar” in 2011 that took place in a corporate hotel event space.

Throughout the documentary, the ex-participants interviewed look back on the project with a palpable nostalgia—not to mention confusion over what was in fact real or an artificial part of the experience. One participant even tattooed one of the concepts from the project on her wrist to serve as a constant reminder of her experience.

Enter The Black Watchmen

Besides The Jejune Institute and a few smaller projects, most ARGs have been limited to being sophisticated but one-off marketing gimmicks. And it’s not hard to understand why: ARGs’ inherent unpredictability and complexity make them nearly impossible to fund for any extended period of time without a corporate sponsor. Yet after a decade of being stuck in a cycle of corporate dependency, crowdfunding via Kickstarter has helped to spawn The Black Watchmen, one of the first major persistent and stand-alone ARGs in the genre’s short history.

Made by Alice & Smith, one of the most respected names in the ARG community, The Black Watchmen is an independent but loosely connected spin-off of their previous promotional ARGs for the online game The Secret World.

See also: The Year In Video Game Maps

As a player, you’ll become a member of the eponymous group, a shadowy paramilitary organization that is hired by global secret societies to help solve the unexplainable. Andrea Doyon, the so-called “Puppet Master” of the project, says they’ve drawn from TV shows such as The X-Files and Hannibal and the works of HP Lovecraft for creative inspiration in crafting the setting and story.

There’s an obvious connecting theme between each work—that powerful blurring of lines between the real and the fantastic that is ideal for ARGs hoping to create the This Is Not A Game aesthetic.

As a member of The Black Watchmen, you’ll be tasked with solving challenging puzzles that often require real-world knowledge, sharp investigative skills, and extensive community cooperation.

This will largely be done over an online, browser-based hub that allows players to connect with one another across the globe to share clues and pool knowledge. Large-scale missions that can sometimes require thousands of players will also appear on the map, allowing for the kind of communal problem-solving that’s difficult to find anywhere else except in an ARG.

The kind of puzzle solving and experiences so far teased by the team vary wildly, and largely depend on the amount of involvement that a player has decided to dedicate themselves to. Examples so far include finding hidden codes in promotional material,simpler and more traditional puzzles done over the online hub, and that real-world mission that ended in a player being arrested by “military personnel” in Montreal.

Doyon hopes that The Black Watchmen will help bring the genre to a wider critical and popular audience through this more varied and approachable system of player involvement.

In this regard, The Black Watchmen features four core levels of engagement—red, orange, yellow, and green—that tells the developer just how much you want the game to reach out to you.

“If you’re a red that means you control the game; we’re not going to invade your reality,” says Doyon. “But the people who keep coming… these people are in for much more than the red level.”

The red level, for example, is done purely through e-mail and the online hub system. For players hoping for a much more demanding and emotional experience, the kind who “keep coming” as Doyon says, yellow and green feature intense interaction between the fantasy of the game and a player’s reality. Real-time phone calls by actors and suspicious packages arriving at your door are par for the course, while the green level even requires the signing of a medical waiver.

Doyon explains that he wants players to “explore the world and try to discover ‘is this part of the game or is this not part of the game? And where’s the line?’”

Leveling Up

In part this push for player exploration is achieved through a storytelling approach that emphasizes hidden clues over explicit narration, as well as a substantial level of agency from the players themselves. The storyline is highly malleable—over 50% of the content will be player-driven—and failure is always an option. “You cannot save the nurse,” promises Doyon in reference to a hypothetical character, “and she will die.” There are no restarts or quick saves in an ARG.

This player agency requires extensive flexibility on the part of the creators—they must be ready to rewrite the story on the fly depending on whether players succeed or fail in their missions. This is especially true for The Black Watchmen, considering the unconventional and potentially momentous persistent structuring of the game.

The Black Watchmen plans to have multiple seasons, depending on crowd-funding, while also making the experience accessible to anyone at any time through permanently available missions—based on the constantly evolving history of the game—to help new players catch up and learn. Both are important innovations that have yet to be implemented in almost all previous ARGs.

See also: Twitch Plays Pokemon And The Year In Crowdplaying

This persistent, approachable structure is a crucial step forward, Doyon explains. “Often if you don’t start at the beginning of the ARG you feel lost. It’s really hard for someone to jump into the middle of an ARG and have a good experience or get something really profound out of it.”

The Black Watchmen’s persistent and player-malleable structure means that the project will be constantly evolving over time into something neither player nor creator can predict. Just as the line between game and reality is purposely blurred with the This Is Not A Game aesthetic, so too is the line between author and consumer.

But let’s not get too caught up in all these juicy postmodern implications—at the end of the day, The Black Watchmen’s accessible and persistent reimagining of a still nascent but promising genre is exciting enough.

The Black Watchmen will begin in Q1 of 2015. If you’re interested in joining The Black Watchmen’s ranks, visit its Kickstarter for more information.

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Lead image courtesy of Induction Center Key via Flickr

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Comedy RPG 2014:The Year Video Games Got Funny Again

Editor’s Note: This was originally published by our partners at Kill Screen as part of Kill Screen’s Year In Ideas series.

I was embarrassingly huge on the ClayFighters series as a kid. I drew fan art in class. One day the teacher caught me and I had to deliver a show-and-tell presentation on every image, as I had dedicated entire blank pages to a character’s portraiture.

I cherished the June 1997 issue of Nintendo Power, where ClayFighter 63⅓ was the cover story, and would read it by flashlight under the covers during a cottage trip when I’m sure many other kids had moved on to embargoed nudie mags. This is shameful due to the specific, important, unavoidable fact that the ClayFighter games are god-awful.

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As a fighting game, it’s stale and unbalanced, trying to ride the coattails of Mortal Kombat. As a work of comedy, it’s arguably worse, starting with the fact that its title fighter is an angry snowman named “Bad Mr. Frosty,” which sure doesn’t sound like a first choice, and ending with an Asian caricature in a karate gi who shouts “NO MSG” as a battlecry. The only logical reason that I—and presumably enough likeminded youngsters to keep the series afloat—lined up is that they tried to be funny, at least. It was a series built on the foundation of comedy material that’s just glad to have an audience.

See also: The Year In Video Game Maps

The me today and the me yesterday would at least agree that humor makes everything better. Cinema. Art. Music. Sex. Dinner. Even funerals, just to remind the procession they’re still alive. I landed with ClayFighters and the also-unfunny-and-unfun Gex because they knew that by advertising themselves as the class clowns they could wear red shiny noses to distract from their sad frumpy bodies.

Funnier games, better games, have come out over the years, from Monkey Island to Portal to this year’s Super Time Force. As good as the gags are, they still carry some laurels of their Redneck Rampage heritage. It’s nice and memorable to have humour in them, but they’d still carry themselves well enough if the gags were vivisected. The jokes exist to support the games; they aren’t exactly built-in. That was just how humor in video games worked—until 2014.

Fighting Al Gore To Unfriend Him On Facebook

South Park has been on the air since 1997. Close your eyes and feel old, and after that sting think about all the game genres the show was stretched to for a quick buck. A first-person-shooter, a kart-racer, a trivia game, a pinball machine, a tower defence and a platformer. Each one took a formulas as-is and added in fart noises. South Park Rally, for example, believed that Cheesy Poofs, vomit and anal probe power-ups was good enough.

See also: Twitch Plays Pokemon And The Year In Crowdplaying

This year’s South Park: The Stick of Truth, developed by Obsidian, is an RPG through-and-through, built with turn-based mechanics and defined by grinding, collecting and reading. But it bucks tradition everywhere it can. You can tell how much of an RPG Stick of Truth isn’t by how few decades it takes you to complete it. I can remember only one battle that required a second go—the first fight with Al Gore—and that’s mostly because I didn’t expect a his first attack, a Power Point presentation that puts you to sleep. The only reason you’d end up fighting him is as part of a side-quest about unfriending him on social media.

But no other enemy puts up much of a fight. Not the Nazi cattle, the battle with underpants gnomes beneath your father’s scrotum or the Canadian direwolves. And this was for a few reasons that the game obviously built in. Battles can be easily skipped by tripping plentiful traps in the world. You can poison foes from a distance with magic farts before engaging in combat to get a huge head start. You even have a whole extra turn just for items and healing spells, which always felt like sacrilege.

See also: Want To Learn About Game Design? Go To Ikea

This is a little bit like reverse-engineering the television show’s game curse. Where other South Park games glued jokes to a game, The Stick of Truth sacrificed difficulty and content in service of the jokes. This makes comedy the engine, the system, the genre—instead of just the hook.

The success of The Stanley Parable showed that, while it’ll frustrate a margin, there are plenty of players happy and willing to go into an entire game expecting little more than a solid punchline.

So You Find Yourself Photocopying Your Butt … 

Jazzpunk is a puzzle, adventure, and espionage game only by second nature. Its top-priority are sight-gags, and a code of law adapted from the files of Police Squad. Its chief inspiration isn’t other puzzle or adventure of espionage games but Zucker spoofs and Tex Avery cartoons. The physics of this universe are inspired by worlds which revolve around gaffs, elaborate, excessive, absurd and brutally literal devices.

Jazzpunk is a dedication to jokes, just like its favorite films. Where most games decide early-on how you’ll be playing the thing, Jazzpunk is flexible, remodeling your sense of agency just to fit some absurd gesture. So you find yourself photocopying your butt, throwing bread around, experiencing pizza nightmares and taking vengeance on pigeons. Slapstick is the adhesive for the spaces between props, and not Gex’s floaty cartoon slapstick, where googly-eyed polygon enemies wobble around, but really contextual pratfalls—most memorably one scene where you knock over a line of theatre patrons like dominos.

One of the least expected supporters of satire this year is Nintendo. In description, Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball is a mini-game collection with peculiar microtransactions. In its context, it is a deep, cutting, and almost sad joke. On the dawn of introducing microtransactions to their own games with Mario Golf: World Tour, Nintendo introduces you to Rusty Slugger, video games’ first Jon Lovitz.

Rusty Slugger is a divorcee cartoon dog. He has a pack of overly energetic pups, a struggling sports store and a head full of loving memory for baseball, the game he used to play professionally. He longs for the yesteryears and whimpers about the state of the world today, not only his marital woes but also the kids and their video games, which he’s forced to sell. By hearing out his sorrows of the changing industry, you can dull the sting of microtransactions, haggle discounts for each mini-game and save a significant amount of your actual cash by doing so.

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At face value, Real Deal Baseball is okay, a quirky little thing with solid baseball activities and a strange framing. But if you assume that it isn’t baseball Nintendo’s sorrowful about changing—if this glass-eyed dog is an avatar to dish out woes on behalf of a company you’re ultimately squeezing discounts from—then it’s suddenly a sublime farewell letter. Similarly, Tomodachi Life hovers between a social sim and a straight-up parody of The Sims, a reductive assessment that the reason most people play the successful series is to watch their avatars engage in sheer stupidity more than prosper in their virtual life.

These games are all very different. Very different codes of humour, very different styles of play: South Park being foul about Taco Bell and Kardashians; Jazzpunk’s relentless goofballs; Rusty Slugger’s smallest violin. But what they all share en masse is that in order to achieve comedy in a space where agency steals the ability for comic timing, they have to design the game from the gag up. They can’t add the funny in post.

We’re moving beyond a point where you can just have a more quotable first-person shooter. The jokes are built right in like game mechanics, whether it’s Stick of Truth’s writing-first mantra or Octodad and Goat Simulator’s disastrous engines of schadenfreude. This is not the world for ClayFighter. These games mean being more clever about design choices and the jokes they’re paired to. It also means sacrificing a traditional game on the altar. But moreover, it’s about telling the people who don’t like jokes that they may have wasted their money—a sweet punchline for those of us drawn indelibly toward comedy.

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The Top 6 Video Games Of 2014

While 2014 hasn’t been a banner year for many (e.g. law enforcement, Congress, the CIA, etc.), it has produced an excellent crop of video games. The industry itself continues to grow, with revenues rising eight percent to an estimated $81.5 billion worldwide.

Here are some of games that made 2014 a year worth remembering.


Category: Most Unnecessary Huge Success By A Game Studio That Already Controls Players’ Souls
Cost: Free (though featuring addictive in-game purchases) for PC, Mac, iPad, Android tablets

Relative to how most games are developed, Hearthstone was basically an afterthought. Blizzard initially created “Team 5” to assess targets of opportunity that larger teams couldn’t get to, then dissolved it, leaving Eric Dodds and Ben Brode to create Hearthstone. Two people! Now the game boasts over 20 million players, making it another phenomenal success for Blizzard—as if the company needed additional control of players’ lives and pocketbooks.

Hearthstone is an online collectible card game, something like Magic: The Gathering. It’s also very easy to pick up, with rules that aren’t hard to understand, completely unlike Magic: The Gathering. It’s also free to play and has a beautiful, intuitive UI (again, totally unlike M:TG). Players play against each other online in one of two modes.

Released in March of this year, the game has already received two expansions: Curse of Naxxramas in July and Goblins vs. Gnomes this December. Curse added 35 new cards and a four-part single-player adventure, while Goblins vs. Gnomes added 143 new cards.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

This dragon is probably not interested in chatting

Category: Most Dialogue Trees
Cost: $60, for PC, XBox One, XBox 360, PS4, PS3

Dragon Age: Inquisition is the latest effort from BioWare, the game studio that also brought you Baldur’s Gate II and the Mass Effect series. By all accounts, DA:I is absolutely massive in every way you’d want a fantasy RPG to be. There’s a huge world to explore, lots of different story options, tons of lore, dozens of side quests, and so forth.

Of course, being a BioWare joint, it has a lot of dialogue trees, because every character has a lot to say about a lot of things. Sort of like real life! Only less insipid, because all the characters in DA:I have professional writers. So, better.


Category: Best Talking Sword
Cost: $20, for PC, Mac, PS4

A singer without a voice pulls a talking sword out of a man’s chest and is soon attacked by robots in a giant, beautiful, sci-fi dystopia. If that doesn’t grab you, maybe the above trailer will.

Transistor has a cool story, a female protagonist (which pretty much all forms of media could use more of until it’s no longer notable and just the norm), is pretty to look at, has a killer soundtrack, and interesting gameplay (this review has a pretty good breakdown of how that works).

Shovel Knight

Shovel your way to victory!

Category: Best Callback To The Platformers You Grew Up With
Cost: $15 for PC, Mac, Linux, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U

If card games, AAA fantasy RPGs and action RPGs aren’t your thing, maybe you’d enjoy some old school platforming. Shovel Knight, the outcome of a Kickstarter campaign, has the look of classic old school side-scrolling games like Mega Man and Super Mario. You’re also a knight with a shovel, which is perhaps a selling point only to me.

Beyond its nostalgic look, Shovel Knight’s game mechanics are also quite solid and have been compared to DuckTales (i.e. the shovel is similar to Scrooge McDuck’s cane) and Dark Souls (though you don’t have lives, and instead you lose gold when you fail). As some reviewers noted, it also has a story that’s more interesting than the old NES platformers it resembles (which is to say, basically all of them).

Super Smash Bros.

Category: Best Way Of Determining Whether Mega Man Or Pac Man Would Win In A Fight
Cost: $60 for Wii U, $40 for Nintendo 3DS

Fighting game franchises tend to have very devoted fanbases, and Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. claims one of the largest. The release of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U this year marks the first new entry to the franchise since 2008. The five years were worth the wait.

The latest edition of Smash Bros. boasts a deep roster of playable characters, from Nintendo cornerstones like Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, and Zelda to new contenders like Pac Man, Mega Man, and the dog from Duck Hunt (who works with the duck from Duck Hunt). Super Smash Bros. attempts, and mostly succeeds, in satisfying both the hardcore fighting game fan’s need for a deep and complex fighting game and the casual fan’s desire for fun new ways to play with their favorite Nintendo characters.

Super Time Force Ultra

Category: Best Use of Time Travel & Action Movie Callbacks and Best Game Featuring A Sony Executive
Cost: $15 for PC

So here’s a lighthearted game with a team of heroes constantly time traveling to accomplish important tasks like getting all the web plugins from the future so their boss can watch cat videos without ever needing to download new plugins. The team is composed of callbacks to action stars—like Melanie Gibson and Dolphin Lungren.

Each character on the team has special powers, and you play each level as one character at a time until they die, then you rewind time and play as the next one, only the previous times you’ve played through the level affect subsequent run throughs. A gameplay video might make this clearer:

Super Time Force will soon be available on the PS4 and Vita. As a result, Sony executive Shuhei Yoshida is now part of Super Time Force. One hopes this makes Nintendo include Shigeru Miyamoto in the next Smash Bros. 

Images courtesy of Blizzard, BioWare, Supergiant Games, Yacht Club Games, Nintendo and Capybara Games

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Sweden’s Sexism Test For Games Is A Great Idea

Editor’s Note: This was originally published by our partners at Kill Screen

Those social justice warriors known as the Swedes are at it again! Last year, four Swedish cinemas started indicating whether the films they screened passed the exceedingly low bar set by Bechdel Test for female representation.

Now Dataspelsbranchen, Sweden’s videogames industry organization, is considering putting a label on future games produced in the country denoting whether or not they promote gender equality. Good on Dataspelsbranchen.

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It’s not yet clear what such a policy would entail. In the case of narrative fiction, the Bechdel Test sets a relatively clear and objective standard: a work must have at least two named female characters who speak to one another about something other than a man. But the interactive nature of videogames complicates matters.

Scripted vs. Interactive Entertainment

How does a test measure the gender equality of a game in which the narrative and interactions are partially determined by individual players? Should the gender diversity of developers be factored into a game’s score? Dataspelsbranchen has only just received grant funding to study these questions; answers will come later.

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But this story isn’t really about labels. The debate over what constitutes a “game that promotes gender equality” is one that needs to be had, even if unanimity will never be reached. Assuming the eventual Swedish label follows the lead of the Bechdel test and sets a low bar, it will be more useful when discussing the state of the industry than when choosing a game to play.

Discussions of sexism in videogames currently focus on the anecdotal: one can easily sense that something is wrong, that a great many games simply use women as props and therefore fail the most rudimentary of eye tests. But the eye test is of limited discursive use, particularly in the face of relentless online pressure. Film critics can point to the fact that 57% of films fail the Bechdel Test as an indictment of their industry; games critics would benefit from having a clear figure.

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Labels have as little power as the glue that affixes them to boxes. You can choose to buy a game even if the label warns of violence. Likewise, Dataspelsbranchen’s label would not preclude you from buying a game that does nothing to promote gender equality.

A label is a minimal imposition on the consumer in service of a larger goal. Sweden’s label will not reflect the quality of the work—artistically, narratively, or technically—but it will contain information worth knowing, information we should have known for some time now.

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