Category Archives: Gaming

Activision Blizzard Launches Activision Blizzard Studios

Skylanders logoActivision Blizzard has announced the launch of Activision Blizzard Studios. It is a new film and television studio that is devoted to creating original content based on some of the company’s extensive library of iconic and globally-recognized intellectual properties.

Some of the intellectual properties mentioned in the press release include Call of Duty, Skylanders, Diablo, Hearthstone, and Starcraft. The very first production from Activision Blizzard’s owned content will be “Skylanders Academy”. It is going to be an animated TV series based on the Skylanders game.

In addition, Activision Blizzard Studios is developing a robust cinematic universe based on the Call of Duty franchise of games. The Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare video game remains the number one selling title on next-generation consoles. The press release, which was posted November 6, 2015, says that today marks the launch of the new Call of Duty: Black Ops III game. Activision Blizzard Studios also envisions a series of Call of Duty feature films, and is considering television adaptations of those films.

Personally, I would love to see an animated series based on some of the lore in the Diablo video games. In 2012, Blizzard released a video on YouTube called “Wrath”. It featured some of the characters from the Diablo series of games, and included fantastic artwork and voice work.

If I was going to speculate, I’d wager that Blizzard could one day put together an animated series based on their Overwatch game. The game has only recently been released in a closed beta, but has generated a whole lot of interest anyway. The style of the art in the game would easily lend itself to an animated series.

Activision Blizzard to Acquire King Digital Entertainment

King logoThe big news everyone was talking about on my Twitter feed today had to do with Activision Blizzard and the announcement that they have agreed to acquire King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 billion. There is much speculation about what will happen as a result of this acquisition.

Blizzard Entertainment is the creator of World of Warcraft. They merged with Activision, maker of the Call of Duty games, in 2008. Together, they are Activision Blizzard. If you visit the website of the merged companies, you can find out about career openings in Activision, or in Blizzard Entertainment. The two companies are merged, but appear to have some independence.

King Digital Entertainment is a company that makes mobile games. The games themselves can be played for free. However, each game allows for in-game purchases. There has been much discussion about whether or not that mechanism means that the game is truly free to play (or if one must spend some real world currency in order to advance in the game.) To be fair, King is not the only mobile gaming company that uses in-game purchases. It’s fairly common.

You might know King from the Candy Crush Saga game, which is a match-three game that gained some popularity. Which brings me to some of the litigious history surrounding some of King’s games. There was a time when King had a trademark related lawsuit with Albert Ransom, the developer of CandySwipe. In 2014, the two parties each withdrew their lawsuit against the other one.

In addition, King was involved in a lawsuit with Stoic Studio. This was another trademark related lawsuit regarding Stoic Studio’s game The Banner Saga. The two companies came to an agreement that protected their respective trademarks in 2014.

Activision has some mobile games that can be played on iPhone or iPad, and a few that are available on Android. Blizzard Entertainment, however, has just begun entering the mobile gaming arena with Hearthstone. It is a virtual card game that started out as available on PC and Mac, and later became playable on iOS and Android.

It appears that the acquisition of King could be for the purpose of helping Blizzard Entertainment to create more mobile games. There are a lot of people who play Hearthstone on a mobile device. It will be interesting to see what mobile games appear in the future that have something to do with Blizzard Entertainment’s games, characters, and existing content.

Neko Atsume is Now in English

Neko Atsume gameNeko Atsume: Kitty Collector is an adorable game where players collect cats. The incredibly cute artwork caught my attention right away. A recent update allows players to toggle between Japanese and English in the game.

The adorable artwork was what first attracted me to this game. All of the text in the game was written in Japanese, and this left me guessing about how to navigate through the menus and what the different items were called. Although most of the game is fairly intuitive, there were times when I needed to search online for an explanation about things.

Neko Atsume in English

The recent update of Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector allows players who use iOS devices to toggle between Japanese and English. Suddenly, I could read the names of the gifts that some of the cats have given me. I discovered that some of the mats were actually heating pads. Some of the item descriptions are amusing. At this time, the update that enabled English is only available on iOS.

This cute collector game is extremely simple to play. Fill the food dish and put some toys, beds, or other items into the space. Random cats will come and visit (until the food runs out). Check in periodically and you might find a cat taking a nap or playing with a toy that you left out for them. If the food runs out, you won’t get any more cats until you fill the dish again. Unlike other pet related games, the cats don’t die if the food runs out. (They just stop visiting you for a while).

The overall goal seems to be encourage all of the different cats to visit. There is an album that shows players information about the different cats that have appeared, and the kinds of things they like to play with. Some cats will decide to become your friend and bring you a special gift.

Cats that visit will “pay” you in fish. Those that were especially happy will “pay” you with golden sardines. These are the two currencies in the game. Eventually, you will collect enough to buy more stuff for your cats to use. This game is appropriate for kids to play, and they can use the in-game currency to shop in the store for more stuff. Parents should be aware that the purchase of additional golden sardines costs real-world money.

Dragon’s Lair: The Movie is on Kickstarter

Dragons LairDo you remember the Dragon’s Lair video game? It was a unique type of game that attracted a lot of attention back in the day. The game debuted as a LaserDisc format game which was something like an interactive movie. The graphics were vastly different, and better, than every other video game in the arcade.

I can’t tell you how many quarters I spent trying keep Dirk the Daring alive for as long as possible. Truth be told, I was absolutely terrible at the game. What kept me coming back to it was the animation and the desire to learn how the story ended.

The original creators of Dragon’s Lair, Don Bluth and Gary Oldman, have a Kickstarter going right now. The goal is to raise enough money to create “Dragon’s Lair: The Movie”.

They need to raise $550,000. At the time I am writing this blog, the Kickstarter has 28 days to go. There is a whole bunch of interesting rewards for backers that pledge specific amounts of money. Some rewards include: digital downloads, Blu-rays, DVD’s, original signed books and artwork, signed posters, t-shirts, and more.

I have mixed feelings about the potential production of “Dragon’s Lair: The Movie”. On the one hand, it would be awesome to see the entire adventure of Dirk the Daring in a movie format. That’s a huge improvement over gathering around an arcade game and catching bits and pieces of the story (based on how good the current player happened to be). I’ve never seen anyone complete the game – so it would be nice to finally get to the ending in the movie.

On the other hand, I’ve always found Princess Daphne to be problematic. Back in the day, it was difficult enough to be the only girl in the arcade. Everything about Princess Daphne, from her barely dressed glitter covered attire, to her bubble-headed voice, made me uncomfortable. It was as though the game had a “Boys Only” sign slapped on the front of it. Why couldn’t they have given Princess Daphne a princess gown to wear?

The game Dragon’s Lair was released in 1983. Decades later, the game still has plenty of fans and lots of nostalgia attached to it. I’ve no doubt that the adventure of Dirk the Daring would be interesting to watch in a movie format, and I am inclined to go see this movie (if it gets made). At the same time, I don’t think Princess Daphne will be very well received today, in a world where 52% of video game players are women.

Overwatch Beta Launches Today!

OverwatchOverwatch is the newest video game created by Blizzard Entertainment. The game has not yet been released, but the beta launches today, October 27, 2015. It will launch in both the Americas and Europe gameplay regions at the same time.

Overwatch is a highly anticipated team-based shooter game. Those of you who attended Blizzcon 2014 had the opportunity to play it at the conference. There has been a lot of hype about the game, and many of the people I follow on social media are excited about it.

The first phase of the beta that is being launched today is a Closed Beta. It is invite-only. The number of players invited into this beta test will be extremely limited.

The goal for the Closed Beta is “100% gameplay feedback”. Blizzard wants players to discuss and dissect every hero, map, ability, and other aspects of the game.

From time to time, Blizzard will open up the beta test for Beta Test Weekends. The main goal of the Beta Test Weekends will be a stress test. They will “open up the floodgates and call on an army to overwhelm” their hardware. These stress tests will be hardware and tech-focused, and will include a restricted number of heroes, maps, and gameplay modes. Feedback, of course, will be welcome.

Want to get into the beta? Be aware that the Overwatch beta will be Windows-only. If you are like me, and use a Mac, you are out of luck. You also have to have the Battle.Net desktop app installed on your computer. Make sure to log into your account and opt-in to the Overwatch beta.

The Overwatch beta will include something new – Battle.Net Voice Chat. The goal seems to be to enable players who got into the beta to test out the Voice Chat. If it works out well, perhaps players will use it instead of Mumble or TeamSpeak while they play Blizzard’s games.

Windows Users, Why Put Up With This?

Bookworm logoMy mom is far from a “power user” when it comes to computers. She’s never sent an e-mail. She’s never browsed the web. She probably isn’t proficient enough with a keyboard to type a simple “hello.” A few years ago, she started playing the addictive word game Bookworm on my sister’s computer, A family friend built her a simple Windows PC out of spare parts he had from other machines. Outside of the operating system, the only thing he installed on that computer was the Bookworm game. It worked fine until about a month ago. After some basic troubleshooting, it was determined that the spare-parts PC had bit the dust, and that it was time for my mom to get a new computer.

Knowing that her needs were pretty basic, I searched Craigslist and found a Dell workstation that would easily meet her needs. The computer was acquired for a princely sum of $20. I went to work installing the Bookworm game. Something I figured could be done in no time.

I did a Google search for where to download the game. This took me to the website for PopCap, the game’s developer. There, I was directed to something called Pogo. Pogo turned out to be a sort of client-based “marketplace” for games; In order to get Bookworm I’d have to get Pogo first. This seemed odd and inefficient.

I kept searching and found another site called Origin that promised I could download the game there. I signed up, paid for the game, and was then directed to download the Origin game client in order to get Bookworm! This seemed even worse than Pogo. At least Pogo was up front about the fact that I’d need their client in order to get the game.

Since I’d already paid for Bookworm thru Origin, I figured I should at least try and run the Origin client. But every time I tried to download it, nothing happened. I couldn’t find any evidence of an Origin installer anywhere on the computer. Now I was getting frustrated!

By this time, my sister had come into the room. She mentioned that she’s got an account with something called BigPond and she knew the Bookworm game was available there. So we logged into her BigPond account, found the game, installed the BigPond client and then finally added Bookworm to the computer. Now, my mom’s computer won’t be connected to the Internet. I did some testing to make sure that Bookworm would run without an Internet connection. And technically speaking, the game did work. But it seemed slower when the machine wasn’t online. Why? The only explanation I can come up with is, the BigPond client needs to phone home to check for licenses. When there’s no Internet connection available, BigPond games still work. But they’re slowed down because the client can’t complete the authentication check.

We’ve got the “new” computer setup at my mom’s place and she said it’s working fine. I’m concerned that at some point, it won’t let her play Bookworm anymore without letting the BigPond client get online to call home. This will effectively break the game for my mom, as her PC has no Internet. This whole ordeal has left me with a few questions:

1.) Why doesn’t PopCap offer a simple .exe download of the Bookworm installer, free of the need to use a third-party client?

2.) On my Mac, I’ve downloaded Bookworm from the Mac App Store. The game runs the same with or without an Internet connection. The download/install process was simple and straightforward. Knowing this, why would Windows users ever stand to put up with this kind of hassle?

Zynga’s Sponsored Play Turns Ads into Games

Farmville Harvest Swap LogoZynga, the company that makes “Farmville” and “Words With Friends”, is now including in-game advertising. This new ad product is called Sponsored Play. It allows franchises to have their products featured in branded levels of existing Zynga games.

In short, it appears that the branded levels will feature a short, fun, game, based around the product that is sponsoring it. Clorox, the company that owns the brand Hidden Valley Ranch, is featured in one of the first Sponsored Play games. Their ad/game is called Farmville Harvest Swap. It is a match three type of puzzle game.

“Farmville Harvest Swap” can be downloaded for free from the App Store or Google Play. In addition to puzzles, the ad/game includes “delightful story-driven progression”.

The true purpose of the game, however, is to enable Clorox to promote its Hidden Valley Ranch products. AdAge reports that the game includes a level where players harvest ingredients for a Hidden Valley Ranch recipe. After players complete the recipe, they are presented with a clickable link that connects to Hidden Valley Ranch’s recipe site.

One could reasonably conclude that more Sponsored Play content will appear in Zynga’s games in the future. Potentially, this could provide Zynga, whose games are free-to-play, with a new revenue stream.

Adults, of course, will be able identify games like “Farmville Harvest Swap” as an advertisement. Children, however, might not be able to differentiate between the Farmville game and the Farmville Sponsored Play advertisement. This brings up the sticky question of whether or not Zynga may be (perhaps unintentionally) directing ads at children. Parents need to be aware that Sponsored Play games could direct their child to websites that have nothing to do with Zynga’s games.

Aberford Combines Zombies and 1950’s Housewives

Aberford on KickstarterAberford is a video game that is currently on Kickstarter. At the time I am writing this blog, it has 26 days to go. Aberford takes place in the 1950’s and all of the player characters are female.

The game was created by Sketchy Panda Games. Aberford is described as a graphic adventure game with brawler-style combat. Personally, I like video games give players a lot of zombies to fight against. It’s awesome that all of the player characters are female. I can’t think of any other video game like that.

Almost all of the player characters are post-WII suburban housewives who live in the town of Aberford. (One character is a teenager, and another is unmarried). So, what we have in this game is a wealth of diverse female characters who are ready and willing to fight and kill zombies.

The player characters you see in the video are Peggy and Betty. Peggy is a professional girl’s-baseball-player-turned-unhappy-housewife. Betty is a former Army nurse who is “the master of everything a 50’s housewife should be”. Other characters, who are not shown in the video, include Doris, who worked as a riveter and lost her job after the war ended. Sylvia is a former scientist (and mother of two children).

Sketchy Panda Games also has some expansion characters These characters play important roles in the main story and are playable in freeplay/multiplayer mode. Some of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter involve the creation of full side campaigns for the expansion characters.

There are four expansion characters. Norma is the manager of Ms. Butler’s Boarding House for Girls and Young Women. She fought in WWII before transitioning and is taking experimental anti-androgen. Mary is a third-generation Japanese-American who spent her teenage years in a wartime internment camp. Mary is not married.

Sixteen-year-old Patricia is a cheerleader and the daughter of Doris. Alejandra, who speaks very little English, fell in love with a Mormon missionary in Mexico and married him after she completed her degree in mathematics. This couple has just moved in to Aberford.

E.T. Video Game Cartridges Unearthed from Desert

atariIt’s safe to say that video games were a lot less sophisticated back in the 80’s. This was a limitation of the hardware of the time, certainly. But it was also due to the fact that the industry itself was young, and game developers knew they didn’t always have to work very hard in order to get decent numbers on the retail market. The 80’s was also a time rife with product tie-ins and merchandising. These factors created a perfect storm for what has gone down in history as one of the worst video games ever created.

In 1982, the game E.T. the Extra Terrestrial was released as a quick cash-in following the massive success of the Steven Spielberg film carrying the same name. I remember playing this game on the Atari 2600 console. Specifically, I recall the frustration I experienced over trying to play a game that really made no sense. The gist of the game (if I remember correctly) is that the player would guide E.T. across different screens to collect candy pieces and somehow, eventually navigate to a spaceship that would in turn take the alien visitor back to his home planet. The gameplay was weird and illogical. The graphics and sound, terrible.

The E.T. game ultimately tanked along with the rest of the industry during the great “video game crash” of 1983. But that didn’t erase the game’s reputation from history. Over the years, E.T. has consistently ranked among the worst video games ever made. It even spawned a fantastic urban legend that the game’s manufacturer had buried thousands of E.T. cartridges out in the desert in the hopes that they’d never be found again.

Turns out that urban legend is true! As part of an Atari documentary, an excavation team took to a dig site in New Mexico, eventually uncovering thousands of original E.T. cartridges. Some copies of the game are no longer playable due to damage. But some have managed to withstand the conditions and have been sold at auction. One copy of the game sold for over $1,500.

Some profits from game sales are going back to the city of Alamogordo as well as a local historical society. The excavation team that completed the dug is still holding some copies of the game to possibly be sold in the future. Along with E.T., copies of more popular games like Asteroids and Missile Command were also unearthed. Those cartridges will likely also be sold in the future.

It’s hard to believe that something once so derided could now be so valuable. You never cease to surprise us on where you’ll spend your money, video game nerds.

Pokémon GO Will Send Players Outside

Pokemon Go deviceIt’s been a very long time since I’ve played Pokémon, and I was a very casual player. Even so, I found myself getting excited by the announcement of Pokémon GO. This new version of Pokémon is going to require players to go outside and hunt for virtual Pokémon in the real world!

Pokémon GO is being developed by Niantic, Inc., the company that is known for making Ingress. It seems to me that a company that has already created an interesting and successful game that makes players get up and walk around outside would be in a good position to create another one.

This new version of Pokémon GO is going to launch in 2016. Players will load the app onto their smartphone. It will be available for free from both the App Store and Google Play. In-app purchases will be available.

In addition, players will use a wearable Pokémon GO Plus device which will connect to their smartphone via Bluetooth. The device will notify the player about events in the game – including the appearance of a nearby Pokémon. This enables players to walk around outside without having to constantly check their smartphones in order to play the game. The Pokémon GO Plus is being developed and manufactured by Nintendo Co., Lt.