This blog is the chronicle of my experiences with Grandma, the video-game playing queen of her age-bracket and weight class. She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her, just like she always has. These are her stories. She is absolutely real. She lives in Cleveland.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Oh, Fuck Yes
In the past week, Grandma's excruciating boredom has been once again defeated with the help of Grandma's friends at Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. First, Evan over at Microsoft gave Grandma the necessary code to get another year of XBox Live Gold assuring that her Gamertag, "OGHC" will continue to rock the XBox 360 in style. This is after Evan gave Grandma all of the codes to acquire full versions of the entire XBox Live Arcade Library (those of you with XBox 360's have probably seen Grandma in Bankshot Billiards 2 quite a bit lately.) Second, Jessica at Nintendo sent Grandma a brand new DS Lite and some games, including her current addiction, New Super Mario Brothers. Third, Jennifer at Sony sent Grandma a big ass package that included a gleaming new PSP and a shitload of games. The Big Three War is being fought hard, ladies and gentleman. As usual, these gifts to Grandma come without strings attached; no promises are exchanged, it's just... "here ya go- you awesome hardcore granny, you!" Grandma and I are honest with you folks, you know that. No matter how well she's treated by the gaming companies of the world, she remains resolve in her ability to provide sincere and occasionally brutal reviews of whatever it is she plays. That being said, god DAMN that was pretty fucking cool!
Grandma's package from Nintendo came without warning. Usually a company will call to confirm the address or e-mail me to ask if Grandma's interested in trying a new game. Nintendo had already sent Grandma two DS units and a ton of games upon the release of Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day. We thought "well, that was nice of them!" Grandma played her DS with the games supplied, bought a couple of her own and quickly became a DS fan. Then, last week, she gets a package.
"What the fuck? I didn't order anything." Upon opening up the large envelope, all she could say was "oh, FUCK YES." "What?" I asked. "I got a fucking DS Lite!!" "What, really?!" "Yeah! Check this shit out!"
Grandma is now the proud owner of a little, white, DS Lite. Without knocking the old DS too much, let's just say she likes the brighter screens a lot better.
We had heard of such things, the guys over at Penny Arcade had got one; I'm pretty sure Kotaku got a package as well; but suddenly she had become one of "those people who get things from Nintendo." Grandma immediately called Jessica to say thank you for the surprise and while she was at it she grilled her a bit about the Nintendo Wii; asking all those questions she forgot to ask at E3. The news is this: they are still unsure if they will package a more traditional controller along with the nunchaku style controller; however: if one has difficulty with the new controller (as Grandma did at E3) then one CAN play using a traditional GameCube like thumbstick controller without missing anything in the game. They are also working to perfect the sensitivity of the controller so those with mobility issues (like Grandma) can use the new style controller comfortably. This was a huge relief for Grandma, who thought she was going to have to lay the smackdown on Nintendo this fall.
Also included with the DS Lite were three games: Big Brain Academy (which Grandma had already bought the previous day, but hell- we have three DS's in this house, we can ALWAYS use another copy); Magnetica, which Grandma says is "Zuma with a stylus"; and the icing on the cake, so to speak: New Super Mario Brothers, a side-scrolling Mario game exclusively for the DS that emulates the style and music of the original bad-ass. It's sweet as hell.
Only a few days and a few phone calls bragging to my brother Josh, (who wouldn't shut up about his brand new DS Lite he had while Grandma had none) ANOTHER package came; a package in the form of a mysterious box, too large to be a game sent from MTV or a t-shirt or something. It had Grandma's name and address, but no return address. It only read: "Los Angeles." Grandma was immediately pissed.
"What the fuck? I didn't order anything. I bet your goddamn mother ordered something from a catalog. She has to TELL me these things so I can write out the bills correctly!"
Grandma opened the box to find a letter on top from Jennifer. We had met Jennifer at the Sony event in Hollywood at the beginning of May. When she found out Grandma was really digging the new Ratchet and Clank and Loco Roco and that she didn't yet own a PSP, she mentioned in passing "oh, that'll be no problem, we can hook you up with a PSP and a few games." I don't remember the phrasing exactly because I was a bit tispy from the open bar they had going. I remember her meeting Grandma and I again at E3 when Grandma came out of the VIP booth after having her first go at the PS3. While her and I talked about the PS3 she mentioned "oh hey- tell your Grandma I've got a PSP for her, I'll send it out soon with a few games." "Sweet! Thank you! She's wanted one for a while."
Notice that both times Jennifer said "a few games." Remember that.
Under the letter Grandma found the PSP box, complete with all the goodies, headphones, remote, strap, PSP, Memory Stick, the basic package. It was beautiful.
All she could say was "Oh, FUCK YES."
That was probably the moment she discovered why the box was so big. The "few games" Jennifer had mentioned before was actually about 20 games; almost the full SCEA PSP library.
The games are: Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror, Neopets PetPet Adventures: The Wand of Wishing, Twisted Metal: Head-on, Ape Escape Academy, Kingdom Paradise, The Con, Wipeout Pure, MLB 06: The Show, Gretzky NHL 06, Lemmings, Medieval Resurrection, Daxter, NBA 06, Ape Escape: On the Loose, SOCOM: US Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo, ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin Trails, Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee, Pursuit Force, World Tour Soccer 06, and a copy of the Loco Roco demo that Grandma loved so much at the Hollywood event ("she remembered!" Grandma said.)
So Grandma now has a DS Lite AND a PSP, as well as the full XBox Live Arcade Library to keep her company until DeadRising, Zelda Twilight Princess, and Final Fantasy XII come out (among others.) She's been playing FABLE in her off time recently, if that gives you any idea of the effects nostalgia has on boredom. "I thought Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion looked familiar..." she says, but more on that later.
The fact is: Grandma finds herself in the crossfire of a battle between friends. The Microsoft vs Sony vs Nintendo War to Grandma is fierce but irrelevant. She just wants to play. This is North vs South shit we're talking about here. Coke vs. Pepsi; The People vs. Larry Flynt; Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka; Smokers vs. Non Smokers; England vs. Germany... and Grandma feels like a bit of a war profiteer befriending all sides, and she's enjoying every second of it.
It makes no difference to Grandma. Her post E3 days of screaming out to no one in particular "god dammit there's nothing to PLAY!" are over. Thank you Microsoft! Thank you Nintendo! Thank you Sony! We've had our differences in the past, you and I; and no doubt Grandma will be cursing your names in the future for some reason, but there is no doubt you all know how to treat a grandmother. It has become the summer of handhelds and arcade games, and I have a TON of things to post about. To quote Grandma: "Oh FUCK YES."
After Grandma's fun-filled action-packed cliche-ridden vomit adventure the first day of E3, things could only get better. Her health was significantly improved, she'd have a bit more time to wander, and we were to finally meet Vic Ireland after the day's end for dinner. Our call time at the convention center was at 8:30am PST, and we were already awake from an early improvised IHOP breakfast. Let's face it, when jet-lag first hits someone from the East Coast, the initial response is one of bewilderment towards the insanity of everyone else. Only the early risers working the coffee shop across from the hotel seemed "normal." Melissa rode the same shuttle to E3 that we did, and Grandma shared her puke story of the previous day with our worried producer. Grandma laughed about it, so we laughed about it; knowing her type of "humor." When we arrived at the South gate of the convention center, there was already a line forming for those with Early Access Media passes to get into the show floor, which wouldn't open until 10:00am. We waited for Blair and the rest of the crew to arrive sitting in the ESA's private lounge eating bagels, only we didn't really know it was the ESA's private lounge until a few recognizable executives walked into the room chatting amongst themselves. The old reporter's axiom is true; all you need to get into a place is a confident walk and some expensive looking equipment. In our defense, however, no one was kicking us out and our "confident walk" was one of wandering tourists- so no one could say we snuck in.
When Blair and the others arrived, we walked down the hall to the Media Hospitality Suite, which consisted of a large ballroom with coffee and danishes at the walls. As they traded different stories of weird goings on the previous day, I watched an on-camera interview for, I swear to god: a Christian-based DDR game called "Dance Praise."
Seeing that go down brought me that much closer to the phrase "alright, now I HAVE seen everything."
We all met at the MTV booth (sorry, the "MTV Presents Game Trailers" booth) and had some more coffee, because we would need it later goddammit. Grandma and I were sporting our G-Hole t-shirts when a couple of the Game Trailers folks noticed us standing around for no particular reason. There is something you should know about the MTV booth, it's was a nice little steel constructed set with a couple of couches, some studio lights on moderately heavy truss and a shitload of television screens displaying all things MTV Games and Game Trailers including, intermittently: The G-Hole, so Grandma's face had graced these screens repeatedly throughout the previous day, sometimes all of them simultaneously. Even so, these two suited-type individuals come up to us and ask "so are you fans of MTV?" "Yes," was Grandma's reply, gesturing at the screens. "I work for MTV. That's me."
They both turn just in time to see this blast on every single screen in the booth:
Of course, it was censored then, but the effect was the same.
Grandma had that little smile she sometimes uses in such situations and they backed away slowly.
In an added bit of triumph, Grandma was recognized several times further that morning as she stood there; people running up to her saying "it's Grandma!!! I HAVE to get a picture with you if that's okay." Not only did it make Grandma feel good, it made her feel vindicated.
Our coffee break over, it was time to work.
Grandma: "Alright, so the first thing we did when we get on the floor is head over to Capcom, but on the way we stop at the Namco booth to score one of those Pac-Man hats that look like stuffed animal helmets. Namco was having pac-man tournaments throughout the day and I guess they were prizes. We told them about the show and asked if we could film a bit. They were promoting a cell-phone game of pacman, but to be honest, we really just wanted the hat. So I danced around like a lunatic with this Ms. Pacman hat and a giant Pacman cell-phone arm-thing for awhile and a bunch of people took pictures. I don't think they recognized any of us, they just saw some crazy old lady with a pac-man helmet screaming 'fuck yeah' and thought it would make a good picture, I guess. They included it in the last episode of the G-Hole if you really want to see it."
"DeadRising for the 360 was delayed recently. You know how I know? Because I was so fucking excited to play it at E3 and to hear a June release date, only to go to GameStop yesterday and have them tell me August sometime. I was so disappointed; this game looked cool as hell. Basically it looks like the plot to Dawn of The Dead; you're in a mall and there is a shitload of zombies after your ass. Like Condemned, you can pick up just about everything to use as a weapon, cash registers, vases, fire extinguishers, whatever you want. Unlike Condemned, though- they come at you all at once. I guess it was their way of saying 'look how many enemies we can get on screen at once without lag.' I know I keep comparing it to Condemend, but also it has a touchy sort of way to pick up weapons, you have to be pretty much on top of the thing to choose it, but it was a demo so whatever, it might be great when they finally release it. In fucking AUGUST. Anyway, it's for the 360, it's zombies, and it's Capcom. It's going to be awesome."
"I don't normally get excited about FPS's, so the two games that took me by surprise were Resistance: Fall of Man for the PS3, and Capcom's Lost Planet for the 360. Tim seems to think it was because the whole demo reminded me of Hoth, but I think it was because it was so damn sharp. It wasn't just another Call of Duty clone, it had it's own style."
"The only other thing I really enjoyed at Capcom's booth was Okami. The demo I know has been out for awhile, so you probably all know about it. This game looks beautiful. You play a dog, and the whole game is like some painted dream. It's hard to describe; I know a lot of the game deals with Japanese legends, including the symbolic meaning of Japanese calligraphy. Okami is going to be released on the PS2 soon, and it's another one I absolutely have to play."
"I'm kind of worried about Square now. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about a lot that we saw at the booth, but there are certain things that make me wonder. Like- here we are at E3, the biggest opportunity for press coverage, and Square Enix has little signs everywhere on the booth and kiosks saying 'absolutely no photography.' Maybe they're flaunting their fame, maybe they're worried people will get pissed at last minute changes (like the difference between the trailer for FFVIII back in the day and the final version cutscene at the beginning of the game), I don't know what it is, but it was also on things like the demo for Final Fantasy XII, which confused me because it was the same demo that came with my copy of Dragon Quest VIII. If everyone can go pick it up at the store right now anyway, why the photography ban?
Anyway, the main reason I'm worried is because it seems like they've begun milking every successful franchise they've ever had instead of focusing on new creations. Then, to make up for it, they start doing it to their new games before they even come out. Now, I know that doesn't SOUND like it makes any sense. But look.. First of all, they treated us really nice. They knew I had problems getting up the stairs to see the movie presentation of their new games. They actually held the line back for a moment while I went up the back stairs. Then they let us sit wherever we wanted, put our stuff down, get comfortable, and then they let everyone else in. I felt kinda bad holding everyone else back like that. Then they started the movie. Apparently, there are a TON of games based from characters in Final Fantasy VII coming out soon. I loved Final Fantasy VII. It remains my favorite all time game. Advent Children was a great movie, I actually got into it; but god damn- Dirge of Cerebus? And what the fuck made them think making a game starring that character everyone forgets: 'Zack,' the black-haired bizzaro-Cloud, would be a good idea? So this goes on for a while. Final Fantasy VII this and that.. a trailer for Advent Children (in English, which freaked me out, because I have the Japanese sub version), some dumb looking cell-phone game, Final Fantasy XII (in English, which freaked me out, only because I saw the Japanese sub version on IGN awhile ago) and then it hit everyone: Final Fantasy Fucking Thirteen.
I know it was mostly pre-rendered bullshit, right down to the little HP numbers flashing above enemies in a slow-mo fight with the badass looking main-character chick (who didn't seem to have a party of other characters with her oddly enough) but it was GORGEOUS pre-rendered bullshit. You have to understand, that with a lot of these trailers at Square, it was some flashed poetry or some shit, an intense looking close-up render of some skin and maybe a glove or something, followed by either hard J-Rock or an orchestra. Final Fantasy XIII still looked beautiful. I was caught up in the hype anyway.
That is, until I found out there was two more Final Fantasy XIII's coming out too. The next two trailers were for those games, and now I don't know what the fuck is going on. Is THAT what they plan on doing from now on? Just release a ton of games based off each character in each game? If Final Fantasy XIII, any of the three of them for that matter, end up like FF X-2, I'm going to cry."
Sega of America
"One word: CHROMEHOUNDS"
"I think the trailer that made me laugh the hardest at E3 was the one for Rayman for the Wii. The one they showed after E3 that's circulating around is different, showing a family watching as evil bunnies show up to hurt Rayman, then the kids grab a Wii controller and ...you know. Kill the bunnies. I thought it was interesting that the old dude picks up the controller at the end, but I don't think they're reaching out to us, it's more of a 'hey, everyone likes to kill bunnies' sort of thing. Anyway, it's interesting. I would have liked to have seen Rayman up in the Wii booth the day before.
Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway... what can I say, it's another Brothers in Arms game, can't go wrong there, although I'm sure some people are getting a little sick of the WWII genre. Also, I think I heard some press person refer to it on camera as 'Band of Brothers', but I didn't have to heart to correct him. I mean, the sign is right fucking behind you.
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas got a lot of attention at the booth, not because of any particularly new and awesome screenshots, but because of the chick dancing around in front of the exhibit. That said, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Double Agent really DOES look sweet, although it's in a different style than the others in the series, so some people might freak when they see that.
But then: ASSASSIN'S CREED. FUCK YES. If there will be a single reason to save for a PS3, it will be this game.
We booked out of South Hall and headed down to West Hall for a little bit and meet up with Martin (the video game pianist). He sent us an e-mail saying he'd be at the BradyGames booth and that we should drop by. When we got there, it was pretty obvious he was busy doing his thing, so we hung back thinking we would wait for him to take a break. The BradyGames booth was kind of depressing, it was a couple of pillars with various strategy guides on display. I wondered what they thought we'd do, browse through them and say out loud 'oh THAT's how you get through that level!' No one was asking the reps anything because, let's face it- everyone was interested in Martin, not some strategy guides to games they had already played. The man just didn't stop playing though, so we called Annie to see what she was up to.
We went back to South Hall to meet up. She was working within the Microsoft booth for Obsidian, and she got me to play a bit of the game... but you know me and PCs. I'm trying, though... I might get there. NWN2 looked cool, I just don't know what the fuck I'm doing. We hung out with Annie and the Penny-Arcade guys Mike and Jerry. They really are as sweet and nice as everyone says. Jerry even recognized Zork Thompson ver 1.0! If you want to see a picture of all of us together, Annie's got one right here. If you look close in the picture, you can even see the Ms. Pac-man head we snagged earlier. It was the best way I could think of to end a day at E3.
It was soon after our meeting at the Microsoft booth with Annie that my cell rang. It was the man his own-self, Vic Ireland. We discussed a time and a place to meet outside South Hall so we could all go to dinner. I stepped outside with Grandma for a well needed cigarette. In these two days, we hadn't seen many booths yet, only because a lot of the time filming has set up time, waiting for appointments, etc.,.. Tomorrow would be her day and mine to explore to our heart's content.
We went to the spot where we thought Vic might be waiting, but couldn't find him. We were back on the phone trying to find each other in the small triangle of space in front of the escalators by South Hall, when finally there was that moment of "oh, so that's what they look like in person" for both of us. Vic had his whole posse with him, including Working Designs staff, family (Latrice, by the way- you're awesome), "the boyfriend" as he was known, and a dude who had only heard of Old Grandma Hardcore, not knowing what quite to expect (note: making tapes for a future radio broadcast is certainly more enjoyable while tanked, eh Chad? ;)
First thing about Vic: he and Grandma got along great. He would help her into the SUV, help her out; he was patient with her when she couldn't quite hear a question, that sort of thing. He was an all around great guy. Generous as well. I won't even try to imagine what Grandma and my steak cost the poor man, but he wouldn't let us pay, there wasn't anything else on the menu, and I don't think our per diem would have covered it.
Second thing about Vic, and this is big news for Working Designs fans: the man and his team are working as hard as they can to get back in action, in a reincarnated form: GAIJINWORKS. There isn't much at the website yet, but you could tell just talking to these guys that they intently had pride in what they do. That kind of thing is difficult to fake; and this was sincere. But you didn't hear that from me. In fact, forget I said anything at all. Who knows why they had business cards that read Gaijinworks?! It could be for any number of reasons ;)
After dinner, I offered to get a round of drinks to keep the night going a bit. We first went to the spinning lounge above The Westin Hotel. I bolted from the parking garage to the lounge of the hotel, confusing differently colored sets of elevators and stairways that only went to certain levels; all the while my bladder building pressure. I remember thinking "Pissing myself would probably be a downer for a perfect evening." Luckily, I somehow made it, and bolted back upstairs, again, confusing differently colored elevators and stairwells until finally meeting up with the rest of the group. We sat down at the almost imperceptably spinning loft lounge, ate a couple peanuts, accepted the wine list, looked over it a couple times, got up, and went back downstairs.
WHO THE FUCK PAYS $10 FOR A MOTHERFUCKING GLASS OF COCA COLA?!
We settled on a comfy bar at the bottom of the hotel that had much more accommodating prices for my budget (I'm not a cheap person, I'm just poor, you see.) For some reason, the drinks downstairs were much less expensive than the drinks upstairs. It must cost more to ship the liquor 9 more floors or something.
We must have talked with those guys for a couple hours. It was great, and I wasn't too smashed where I was too sick and too stupid to recognize what this meant for Grandma. She listened to stories about China and Japan; the traffic, the toilets, the food; we shared our press experiences, it was just very, very cool for her. None of these people were assholes; nobody was kissing her ass or giving the fake smiles of which we saw from so many at E3 (not from industry folks, mind you, more from the people working the booths.) For her, an evening relaxing with Vic, Ken, and everyone there was made it all worth it. The day spent with Annie, meeting the guys who showed Jack Thompson gamers are great people, seeing Martin gather the crowds, seeing Vic and the team talk with excitement about new projects... she described it as going to a Thanksgiving Dinner and hearing that everyone in the family is doing alright. It was as though they had shared the same experience she had for the past year.
Sometimes after months of vague promises, distraction and hype, one finds an article that allows just a glimmer of unadulterated PR. "Sure we're reaching out to all demographics," "Sure, our games our enjoyed by all," they might say to us. And then, where there should have been silence and perhaps a sinister twisting of a moustache in a vaudeville attempt to conceal their secrets, all hell breaks loose.
Let's go through this article together; see if you can spot the point in which gaming as you know it ends forever.
"At the Focus on Game Advertising Summit, Microsoft's Kevin Browne laid down five traits of in-game ads that must improve. [...] Browne, who is the general manager of Xbox New Media and Franchise Development, delivered the keynote at the conference, covering plenty of stats and trends of in-game ads. While most industry figures can agree that in-game ad revenue will increase substantially in the coming years, exactly how the segment will reach its full potential isn't completely clear."
Things you should have noticed in the first goddamn paragraph: 1. In-game ads are already in effect enough to display growth charts. Of course, this is known, but it needs to be reiterated. How appropriate that Tony Hawk's money-whore of a billboard filled XBox 360 game was called "American Wasteland." 2. "Most industry figures" agree that revenue from in-game ads will increase substantially. Logic tells us that an increase of revenue from ads requires an saturation of new advertising within games. We'll get to this point later.
"Browne tried to disperse some of the fog surrounding the growth of in-game ads by presenting where the industry stands today compared to the ideal in-game ad environment.
(The Ideal : The Reality)
1. Dynamic and Flexible : Mostly static advertising 2. Broad Reach : Requires unique integration title by title 3. Accountable : Effectiveness is only measured by sell-thru 4. Easy to Integrate : Game teams pushing back, resisting due to it being a lot of work to integrate 5. Agencies Drive Value : Agencies have a very limited role"
Browne's first contention in "Ideal vs. Reality" is that advertising at the moment is static, much like the billboards in a Tony Hawk game, for instance: passing a McDonald's sign or a Jeep Liberty on the road as you skate around on a course. A dynamic model might be instead your character filling up on a delicious McDonald's Extra Value Meal to gain valuable energy points. The idea here being active association with energy and McDonald's food.
No one is suggesting that you will later think to yourself "my god, I am very hungry, I am tired from my hunger; gee, when I play Tony Hawk a good McDonald's meal seems to do the trick, I'll try it too! Yay!" People are smarter than that. Conditioning a consumer to choose a product is done by associations of the product and something the consumer finds attractive and cool, in this case Tony Hawk and the XBox 360. It all comes to fruition the moment the consumer sees a Burger King and a McDonald's next to each other on the road and makes a decision to go to McDonald's. The more times the customer chooses McDonald's, the more effective they declare the advertising campaign.
When the product is nearly identical to its competitor's (think of how many places you can get a burger and fries) it is ad saturation that will guide the consumer's decision.
2. "Broad Reach vs. Requires unique integration by title."
Oh, we'll get to this in a moment. I'm sure you'll have a fairly good idea what Browne thinks is a "broad reach."
3. "Accountable vs. Effectiveness is only measured by sell-thru."
Who wants to sign in to their XBox Live account and get an Amazon.com like message about how much they knew you like Oblivion because of the 90+ hours you put in and that they have a GREAT new RPG coming up just like it they think you'd enjoy and Oh! -they also noticed you bought the Horse-Armor in your last game so maybe you'd like to try the extra special platinum 1-year anniversary edition horse armor as well. Don't forget to update your maps for that XBox classic: Barbie Horse Adventures, you horse loving fiend! It was also noted that 65% of your 640 person strong friends list have over half the available achievement points for the game G.R.A.W., 70% have achieved Veteran Status in Call of Duty 2, and 80% have begun FarCry, and that rank high on most leaderboard for these games so we'd like to reward you with the opportunity to play in our special tournament (sponsored by Moutain Dew.) Invite all of your friends to participate in the tourney or cheer you on, and if they enter the codes on specially marked 20oz bottles of Mountain Dew you could win weapons upgrades for the Grand Championship televised on G4TV (brought to you by Mountain Dew.)
While you wrap that around your head for awhile, ask yourself this: just how much information do they already collect on you as you play the XBox 360?
When you register for an XBox Live Gold Account, all of your primary demographic info is there, so it negates their need to collect surveys of your playing habits. They KNOW your playing habits. The only reason they have to solicit surveys anymore is to collect data on how often people lie on surveys.
4. Easy to Integrate vs. Game teams pushing back, resisting due to it being a lot of work to integrate
There are a few possibilities here, first being that game teams "pushing back" are actually responsible folks in the industry finding creative ways to prevent the onslaught of in-game advertising. Perhaps they have used the only effective weapon they have: complaining about efficiency.
Otherwise, easy integration of advertising in games may lead to standardized system perpetuating a whole slew of lookalike clones. You don't need me to tell you how boring that shit can get. It gets old FAST.
5. Agencies Drive Value vs. Agencies have a very limited role.
Did you catch it? If you haven't yet, let this jem of a quote from Mr. Browne hammer it home for you:
"Whenever we talk to our in-house teams about in-game advertising, we always push the issue of relevance. Inevitably, the discussion starts with them telling us that they don’t want Tampax ads in their game. We're pretty sure Tampax wouldn't be interested in 18-34 year old males."
What we are witnessing is the bastardization of gaming. When the money begins to flow (which it already has according to the same article, $56 million for 2005 by Microsoft's estimates) the control and design will be in the hands of the advertising agencies, rather than the Wil Wrights and David Jaffes of the world. Games will be even more filtered to fit a specific demographic to make it more attractive to potential ad money, and the dream of different ages and genders playing together like Hippies and Suits tossing a frisbee on a warm, summer afternoon will be lost to marketing jargon and Madison Avenue.
So what can we do? Unfortunately, the answer is painful. Our apathy is the greatest impetus that pushes this system of in-game advertising forward.
Microsoft has proven itself to be a great addition to the gaming industry. We dug the XBox, we love the XBox 360, thus: their words mean something to the industry as a whole. Yet they must ask itself if today's shining games in a sea of mediocrity is really what they want us gamers to remember as "The Last Golden Age."
Until then, Do The Dew, you zombie killing bad-ass motherfucker, you.
Yes, that is a horrible picture of Annie. When one's speedlight is out of order, one tends to use any available light to get a shot; this time the light from MTV's cameras on their first meeting outside the Sony VIP booth. In a post long overdue, I'll walk you through the rest of Grandma's experience at E3. This may be a long post, so grab a drink, pull up a chair, put on some music. We'll be here when you get back. As Grandma filmed an interview with some ridiculous camera based card game at Sony, I managed to call Annie and let her know where we were. It was a bit of a hike for her to meet us; so while waiting I watched the slow moving crowds form natural patterns of migration to briefly see the main display of the Playstation 3 and move on to the giant screen showing trailers of Assassin's Creed and Metal Gear Solid 4. No one looked as though they had a purpose for being at E3, it was merely wandering around until something caught their eye so that they may stare in that direction a bit longer. We all had our reasons for being there; some of us where there as a display of loyalty to the industry who had given us the hobby, some were there to witness what had become of the companies they felt had betrayed them for one reason or another, some were press- just doing their job to cover an event that had earned a reputation, some just for bragging rights, and then there was Grandma- who couldn't articulately tell me exactly why she had always wanted to go.
I have my guesses. I think she wanted to finally meet all those who had given her a year of love, e-mails, games, cards and advice. Perhaps she wanted to see why the magazines heralded E3 as the event of the year for gaming. Maybe it was something so much more simple, and she just thought it'd be cool. I remember watching Spike TV's "Ultimate Gamer" before I started the blog and getting pissed off at the rat bastard who managed to win a full gaming theater set for his living room and a ticket to E3. That man wasn't an ultimate gamer, I had thought, because his reaction to what he had the privilege to see at E3 seemed insincere and forced. My impression was that he was just some slob who played Madden all day and knew a bit of easy trivia.
The segment recently released on The G-Hole showing Grandma at E3, interviewing Sony and Nintendo, accurately shows her excitement because the moments filmed really do show her first look at the show floor; her first impressions of the Wii. MTV did well enough to honestly capture those instances as they happened instead of setting up multiple shots, asking repetitive questions and the like. Perhaps my impression of that Spike TV dude was wrong only because they had a shitty producer. We'll never really know.
Annie and I recognized each other almost immediately. She arrived just in time as Grandma hobbled down the stairs of the booth to meet her. In some circles of society, a firm handshake and a smile are sufficient enough for a first meeting of two persons. Grandma and Annie, however, went straight to hugs.
Melissa, the MTV producer was quick enough to get the camera ready for the meeting without any heads-up from Grandma or I. She perceived Grandma's excitement and knew something important was coming. (Annie's the one labeled Old Grandma Hardcore fangirl). Annie asks Grandma if she had seen the Wii yet, and it was a perfect segue, for that was precisely where we were heading.
Now, we were prepared for the treatment Grandma received at E3 from the Sony event a month prior, but it still impressed Grandma when Nintendo reps asked her if she wanted something to drink or some ice-cream while she waited for access to the VIP room upstairs, in which we were told we would find several operational Wiis with different games at each. While we sat there waiting, Grandma didn't look like she was feeling very well. She's diabetic, so the first possibility was that her sugar was too low. She hadn't finished her breakfast at the airport that morning and I didn't know if she had snacked on anything before now, almost 3:00pm Pacific Time, which still felt like 6:00pm to us. She shrugged it off and told us she was fine even though we all knew she wasn't.
After twenty minutes or so, they led us up a couple flights of stairs to a room filled with playable Wiis. Grandma immediately made her way to Zelda: Twilight Princess.
Grandma: For months now, everyone asked me what I thought about The Nintendo Revolution, (they only just started calling it the Wii, it's hard to break habits), and I had to tell them al the same thing: 'I won't know until I try it!' I'll tell you, I STILL DON'T KNOW. All the games were a little jumpy with that controller, the sensitivity was way off making for a pretty difficult play. When I asked the rep about it he assured me that they would be adjustable in the final versions, which is good because as they were, I just couldn't see myself playing these games all the way through. The new Zelda should be at least 50 hours, right? Well, if it's anything like Windwaker it should be even longer than that- so can you imagine yourself sitting forward in a chair resting your arm and twitching your wrist all that time, or do you think they're TRYING to force you to take more breaks by making the position uncomfortable? The first thing I thought when I heard about the new controller was 'well, I'm all over the damn place when I play anyway so maybe this will help.' This is especially true in FPS games, so I thought RedSteel or Metroid Prime would be easier with this thing. Let me tell you about Metroid Prime for the Wii. If you want to turn left or right in the game, you have to move the controller all the way in the direction you want to turn, and it takes FOREVER to spin around. It was a bit faster when you were in ball form, so maybe that's how you have to do it, but they really should have made the demo more like the final playable version as far as sensitivity goes, because while I was up in that booth, all of us playing all said the same thing at first: 'I can't get the damn thing to work!'"
And then there's this thing. The sensor bar that goes in front of your TV so the controller will work. They told us that you couldn't be too close to the television, and you couldn't be too far away either. I figured as much, but that means those previews that show guys jumping around the couch beating the shit out of each other on screen and swinging the controllers around are complete bullshit. If you have a large living room with an awkwardly positioned couch, you're fucked. If you have a dorm or somewhere small, you're fucked. There is a very ...narrow (I guess would be the word) available space to play this thing. Again, maybe this doesn't mean anything because these are previews of what we'll end up with later this year, but it didn't blow me away like I thought it would. Also, yeah- the price (or the price everyone is throwing around) for the thing seems reasonable enough, but if you want to play with an old school controller, that'll cost ya', not to mention any of the various controller add-ons they're sure to make you buy for different games in a 'gotta-catch-em-all' way of thinking that keeps some people away from gaming.
The games, on the other hand, looked pretty cool! Most impressive was Zelda: Twilight Princess. The graphics were about what you'd see on a GameCube (seeing as we were probably playing on GameCubes, that made sense) which is just fine with me. He was scaring me a bit talking about difficult moves one would have to master, like holding out one end of the controller and holding the other one back like you were drawing an arrow, then pressing the button to finish the job. There are many gamers, like me, who have mobility problems. I hope I can just use a regular controller instead; otherwise I'll have to buy the GameCube version (they're releasing both at the same time, the same day they release the Wii.) Some people are questioning what the rep meant when he said that we would be able to see Link get older in the game; I interpreted it as we would have playable versions of a young Link and an older Link, but it could be just some flashback scenes or some bullshit. I really hope it isn't.
Metroid Prime, again, was pretty hard. The original was so perfect with a GameCube controller with the 'Z' button and the triggers, it was... it was perfect. The new controller makes it a bit overly complicated. Also, when Samus is in the ball form, the screen went into a sort of 2-D side scrolling mode so you could control where she's bounce and roll. I guess that's nice cause it goes back to the old days of Metroid.
I wasn't impressed with Red Steel. It looked like a Playstation One game as far as graphics go, and when you'd hit someone or slash them with a sword, it was just the one swing in two directions. You weren't sword fighting or anything, you're just waving it around like an idiot until they try to swing at you when you block. Shooting was about the same as Metroid, only it lacked the lock-on function (or at least I was never shown how to use one.)
WarioWare was a blast. We had a lot of fun with this one. It was the one game that seemed to work perfectly with the controller. Sure, you feel silly moving the controller like you're pumping iron, but it was fun. My only beef with this one is the novelty may soon run dry.
Sonic The Hedgehog... what can I say. It's a racing game. With Sonic the Hedgehog. It reminded me a lot of the bonus levels in Sonic 2 (the first one with Tails if I remember correctly) with the graphics and gameplay of the Spongebob racing game we saw at the THQ event, which isn't saying much. Also, it still feels funny seeing Sonic in a Nintendo booth. It's like seeing a Yankees fan cheering for Boston.
And then there was Mario. You can't go wrong with Mario. If any game is going o convince me that the Wii is a viable and awesome console, it will be this game. The controls were subtle, unlike the flailing you had to do with the others, and it was a lot like one of my other favorite Mario games, Mario 64. If you wanted to jump up on a cliff, a flick of the wrist would do it. The 3D worlds were very much like Jax and Daxter, so I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was also the only game I didn't have any problems getting used to.
The bottom line for The Nintendo Wii is they have a lot more to show us than long lines at E3. Everyone keeps telling me they blew Sony out of the water, and I just don't see it. Some even went so far as to say that any console that kept with thumbstick controls would be outdated and stupid; that motion-style gaming was the future and we were all in the past. They may be right, what the hell do I know. Everyone said the DS was a gimmick too and here we are loving it. The one thing keeping it afloat for me is the ability to download old Nintendo and Genesis games in an XBox Live Arcade type fashion. Sure, we can do that now with the GameCube, all we have to do is go to the store and buy a games package. The Sonic Collection, for instance, pretty much has every Sonic game ever made for the Genesis and SegaCD and it's $20. But when you eliminate the packaging and all that shit, it makes it cheaper for us, so for those that can, downloading games proves better.
After we were finished at the Nintendo booth, (we were there for quite a while), Grandma really didn't look so good. She asked if there was a restroom nearby, and the rep escorted us through the bowels of the makeshift Nintendo offices to the rear exit, guarded by a pitbull of a woman who informed us that if Grandma left, she couldn't cross the rope again to meet with the crew unless she walked all the way around. The rep waited patiently with me as Grandma went off to find a toilet suitable for vomiting. It was pretty clear we were done for the day. The show floor was closing in a half hour anyway, so the rest of the MTV staff told her it was no big deal and we could film more in the coming days; she should go back to the hotel or get some food and get better.
The shuttles weren't running yet, so I hailed a cab to get back to Hollywood. We were both so exhausted I think we both nodded off a couple times in the L.A. traffic, soothed by some AM classical music station the cabbie had chosen. Hollywood Blvd. was closed off by the Chinese Theater for the premiere of the movie Poseidon. For some reason every celebrity Grandma and I have seen so far has been incredibly short, this time Kurt Russell.
When we arrived at the Hotel Roosevelt, Grandma looked as though she wasn't going to make it to the room. At this particular hotel, the magnetic hotel key-cards used to access the rooms also control the elevators, so it didn't help with me sliding and re-sliding the fucking thing to get it to work. It was only by chance that someone on the third floor called the elevator up right when I was about to fetch a bucket. Grandma literally held her hand over her mouth to barricade the ensuing vomit from reaching the historic tiled floor. Frank Sinatra had walked these halls, she'd be damned if she was going to puke all over it. I fumbled again at the door; sliding the card in *red light* and again ....*red light* and again.. *red-light* ...and again... *red light* as poor Grandma whimpered at the taste I didn't particularly want to imagine.
Finally: *green light*
She bolted into the bathroom and let go. I put the heavy load down and fetched some mints from the luggage. She gargled some mouthwash and came out of the bathroom feeling a little better, but still collapsed on the bed from exhaustion.
"You alright?" I asked. "Yeah, I just needed to get it out of me, you know? It was probably that fucking food this morning." "At Max & Erma's?" "I knew the cheese on the eggs didn't taste right. I'm just gonna... nap for awhile."
And so she did. Shit, I did too. It was then I realized that both times we were in Hollywood from all this, one of us had a major incident involving vomit. Mine was induced by my own stupidity and a day's worth of booze; her's from cheese and undercooked eggs.
We woke up a little hungry a few hours later. I remember asking her what she had a taste for, her replying "whatever you want, I don't really care.." and then we both fell back asleep. Welcome to the rock and roll lifestyle, I suppose.
It was 3:30am Pacific Time when I finally got my ass up for a shower and a change of clothes, Grandma was still asleep. I was STARVED, and knew she would be as well. Downstairs I asked the dude at the front desk if there was a 24-hour Ralph's or Albertson's or something where I could score a bagel or two and a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. He gave me some quick directions but wondered if I wanted him to call a cab.
"Nah, it's only five blocks, I'll just walk, dude." Because really, what could happen?
As it turns out, crazy food-stamps card selling guy could happen.
I walked down Orange Rd. on my way to Sunset Blvd. when I noticed the most beautiful thing one can see as a traveler at 4:00am in L.A.: an open IHOP. The International House of Fucking Pancakes. Hell yes. Being of the sort that digs efficiency, I walked to Ralph's first to get the Pepto-Bismol and some Tylenol for Grandma first, planning to hit IHOP on the way back. About halfway there, I met Crazy Food-stamps Card Selling Guy.
CFSCSG - "Hey man.. can I have one of those cigarettes?"
Me - "Sure, here. You have a light?"
CFSCSG - "Yeah, I got matches. Say, are you from out of town?"
Me - "Yeah, New York" (sometimes I think I lie because I'm evil...)
CFSCSG - "Cool, man. That's real cool. Hey are you buying groceries, cause... check it out- I got this card, right; and it's got $100 in foodstamps and I'll sell it to you for $50, so you have something to eat while you're in town."
It should be noted that I am not a country-bumpkin, nor am I an idiot. Yes, in Cleveland we have the equivalant of Crazy Food-stamps Card Selling Guy, but they try harder. They give you a back story, some exposition, a REASON to help them; any number of flat tires, dying toddlers in hospitals cross town, parole officer appointments they can't be late for, etc.,... and hell, I usually give them a couple of bucks just for the effort; the theater of the thing. But this guy was straight to the point. If he wanted some crack money he should have just asked. I'm a nice guy. But, he had to be all shifty, so I laid on him with the only possible answer:
"Sorry man, I'm out to buy whiskey. Just whiskey. I can't buy booze with foodstamps otherwise I'd take you up on that. Sorry."
Because... what do you say to that? Exactly.
I found the Ralph's, bought Grandma some supplies, and made my way to the IHOP and ordered two pancake breakfasts and some coffee to go. As I sat there waiting, I overheard the two employees talking about a friend who's house had been broken into, where she was then raped and murdered. Sure, this sort of thing happens in all cities, so I didn't really have a moment of L.A. panic; but I DID question my ability to pay for my meal without leaving some condolences, but I couldn't.
Because... what can you say to that? Exactly.
It's odd breakfast conversation. Walking up Orange Rd. to get to the hotel, my phone rang in my pocket. It was Grandma.
"Where the fuck ARE YOU?!" she very calmly asked.
"I just went out to get us some food."
"Well, to me it's 7:30."
Up in the room we ate our breakfast and got ready for the day. It would be our second day at E3. Grandma was already feeling better, and now we would have more time to game, as well as meet another personal hero of Grandma's: Vic Ireland.
The last E3 post is coming; sorry about the delay. I'm deadlocked in one of those situations where work has to come first. Anyway! There are quite a few things going down Grandma would like to address. In no particular order: a columnist at parentstv.org used Grandma to incite ideas that video games are not only inappropriate for children, but also for adults; some folks are using the Gamerscores of a certain all-female clan to discredit them as nothing more than agents of PR; Cory Barlog has a new blog; Seth Green put his foot in his mouth and Grandma was there to taste it; Grandma was featured in Road King Magazine; and she was on German television. Again. Let's start with Christopher Gildemeister. He wrote a column in the Culture Watch section of parentstv.org in which he quoted me and stated that Grandma and her hobby "[is] a matter of potential concern." Now I know what I'm supposed to do on our silly humor site; I'm supposed to call him a dirty fucker and move on to more important things. BELIEVE me, I'd like to- but what this man is doing is nothing less than the attempted mandating of social behavior for all ages, regardless of maturity and independence. In doing so, he negates the good work that others have done in proposing responsible parenting.
Understand that it is under the facade of "protecting the children" that they attempt to control YOUR behavior and mine. For example: they tell us children should not smoke or drink; that children are not mature enough to understand the risks involved, and they propose a prohibition on the sale of tobacco and alcohol to minors. Very well! Reasonable enough indeed. However, if they propose the prohibition of ALL alcohol and tobacco, they are saying that none of us are mature or intelligent enough to assess the dangers of such use, and they, the wise, will guide us down the proper path of righteousness.
Too extreme an analysis perhaps?
Let's read some of the article:
The National Institute of Media and the Family found that 92 percent of all children ages 2 to 17 play video games, and the average child spends 9 hours each week playing them. The Institute also found that 87 percent of pre-teen and teenage boys play games rated "M" for Mature by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. M-rated games often contain realistic depictions of human injury and death, mutilation of body parts, rape, sex, profanity and drug, alcohol and tobacco consumption. (US Fed News, July 25, 2005; Advertising Age online, July 28, 2005; Associated Press, July 27, 2005)
First of all, "The National Institute of Media and the Family" is hardly a non-bias organization. Remember that this is the SAME organization that took quite a long time before distancing themselves with Jack Thompson. Until his ridiculous proposal (which Grandma and I answeredinkind) last year, Jack and NIMF were like peas and butter. About the only redeeming quality they possess is Jeremy Gieske, who writes fairly honest, parent-friendly video game reviews for their site using the "KidScore" system.
Second: Realistic depictions of human injury and death, mutilation of body parts, rape, sex, profanity, drug, alcohol and tobacco consumption is found in many stories on the required reading lists in high schools all across the country, and for a good reason: LIFE contains such elements. That, however, is getting into a deeper philosophical discussion than is required today.
Anyway, here comes the part where Gildemeister reveals his true nature:
What is perhaps more surprising – and potentially disturbing – is the fact that far more adults, many of them parents, than previously suspected also play such games…and are not immune to the allure of the violence presented within.
See what I mean? It isn't about children or parenting, it offends him that adults, perfectly capable and free to make their own decisions, play these horrible and immoral games on that thar' television screen thingy.
"If you saw her in a grocery store, you would see an old, Midwestern diabetic with thick glasses leaning on a crutch or shopping cart…but get her in front of a game, and she becomes a monster." -- Timothy St. Hilaire, describing his grandmother, 69-year-old Barbara St. Hilaire, who spends about 50 hours a week playing violent videogames and whom Timothy has nicknamed "Old Grandma Hardcore." (BusinessWeek.com, October 19, 2005)
Um.... well, yeah. That's what she does. If he cared to read the blog or perhaps read the whole BusinessWeek article instead of selectively quote passages (like I'm doing now), he would have also read that Grandma oil paints, reads books, shops, pays bills, works for MTV as a host, gardens, and any number of "socially acceptable" things.
This is a matter of potential concern. Too many hours spent playing videogames can foster both social isolation and aggressive behavior, according to studies cited by the National Institute on Media and the Family. [...] Also of concern is the possibility of increased aggression and competitiveness between parents and their children, with such conflict centering around shared videogames.
It is very difficult to read about video games causing "social isolation" when I have personally witnessed Grandma blossom socially in a very global way that would have never happened if NOT for video games!
Clinical psychologist Erik Fisher, author of the books The Art of Managing Conflict and The Art of Positive Parenting, warns parents against becoming obsessive over videogames, and becoming too competitive when playing against their children. "You don't want to be practicing all night just so that you can beat them," Fisher says. (Sacramento Bee, January 7, 2006) "I really got into it when Nintendo came out with Super Mario. I remember playing with my son all night long, competing against each other." – “Old Grandma Hardcore” Barbara St. Hiliare (BusinessWeek.com, October 19, 2005)
I want you to read Fisher's quote, then Grandma's quote, and see if something just doesn't jive. He took Grandma's quote as meaning that she would stay up all night only to beat my uncle; a fierce competition raging into the wee hours of morning. She played because she was having fun! She loved to spend time with Ralph and she loved playing the games.
You see Fisher's name up there without a contesting viewpoint.
NOW you see why I am writing a book about Grandma and mature gaming.
I could go into this more, but the article was written at the end of March and we missed it somehow; I suppose the influx of hate-mail didn't spike enough for me to become suspicious. Do us a favor, though. Write to the folks over at parentstv.org and let them know your opinion. These people will only change when concise argument and convincing anecdotal evidence overwhelms them.
Next up, someone over at one of our favorite sites, digg.com, submitted an "observation" (if you will) that because the PMS Clan members featured in an article (TriXie was the one interviewing them, by the way) did not have very high Gamerscores on their "My XBox" homepages, they must be frauds, thus they must be PR agents of Microsoft, etc., etc.,...
Besides the obvious arguments that not everyone owns an XBox 360, GamerScore points are only available through 360 games, and that gamerscore doesn't mean shit, Grandma and I got to meet a couple of them at E3 (which you'll read about in the next post, I promise) and they are ACTUALLY kick-ass gamers. It really pissed us off to see our friends, particularly TriXie, called liars. Our readers know us, we're honest to a fault; so trust us when we tell you: this is a non-story that means exactly fuck-all.
Alright, here's a juicy piece of something that might mean nothing: Over at Kotaku they featured an actually very funny clip from Seth Green's show "Robot Chicken" in which they parodied Final Fantasy VII. Everyone in the technorati world began praising Seth as a gamer who really "is just like us!" Remember that first time Grandma went to New York and met Seth Green just before he went on TRL? Well, he said something then that I didn't think much of at the time, but... well here:
[MTV] - "Seth this is Old Grandma Hardcore"
[Seth Green] - "Ah, what uh... what are you doing here at MTV?"
[Grandma] - "I review video games."
[Seth Green] - "Well, then you and I would have nothing to talk about."
Oooooo... BURN! I'll print the rest of the conversation one day so we can all look back at this and laugh, but.. did he say what I think he said? Now, I don't believe for a second that he's not a gamer. If he isn't, he just has really good writers at the show who don't get enough credit. If he IS, though, then maybe; just MAYBE Seth Green was an asshole to my Grandma. Let THAT shit sink in for a minute. Let's see YOU watch your seven disc Family Guy boxed set the same way after he blows off YOUR Grandma!
Our fears have been quelled; Sony did not lock Cory Barlog in a windowless dark room somewhere while he finishes up God of War 2, for behold! The man has a new blog. He finally made the move to Blogspot after modBlog depressed him too damn much. Don't expect it to be updated too often, he really is a busy guy. Nevertheless, go bug the shit out of him.
He has a great opportunity to reveal the frustrating world of game directing to the rest of us vultures.
For all you truckers out there, you'll be excited to know Grandma is in the May/June issue of Road King Magazine. It's a small little blurb about the expanding demographics of games, but it's still pretty fucking cool. Truckers are good people. We like truck drivers. Shit, from those I've met, it seems perfectly appropriate for Grandma to be in this magazine; if for no other reason than they speak the same language as Grandma. Most of us recognize the CB radio as the first iteration of XBox Live!
Try avoiding a speed trap without one. It's just not the same, man.
Grandma was featured on the German television show Taff again, this time in a piece discussing female gaming and of all things, the upcoming game Desperate Housewives. I can pretty much guarantee this will be a game that Grandma not only won't play, she'll probably verbally assault and physically damage the display case for it at GameStop. Maybe she'll even spit on it. In other words: DeadRising/Gears of War = yes; Desperate Housewives = fuck no. Anyway, we always welcome our friends in Germany, so let us know what you're playing!