2011: Year of the Indie Game

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2011 will be a year of turbulent change in the video game industry. As we all know, and can easily tell by the comments section of many news articles here on gamespot, many gamers are becoming fed up with the gaming industry as it stands. Anti-corporate sentiment is strong and lawsuits are flying back and forth, leaving the gamer with not much more than a repackaging of the same game they played last year. Not to say all games made by EA or Blactivision are terrible, I have enjoyed a lot of Starcraft 2, and at a friends house played a lot of Battlefield: Bad Company 2. But even these games are surrounded by corporate controversy, and that is the first reason why things are going to change in the coming year.

What will gamers turn to after they tire of these large companies charging high prices for re-packaged content? The independent game development scene, of course. It has become obvious that this is the direction the video game industry is headed, and 2011 will be the year that it explodes. Lets start with a definition of an indie game, and then analyze exactly how we can tell that we are entering the year of the indie game.

While most people have heard of and probably played indie games, it can still be confusing exactly what an independent game is. The most concrete way to define it is any game not published or developed by a major game developer, such as EA or Blizzard Activision. So technically, anything not by one of the major publishers is independent. However, the smaller the company gets, the "more independent" the game becomes. When the company is smaller, there is less pressure to meet deadlines, and less pressure to make the game adhere to whatever guidelines the big companies have decided makes a comercially viable game. This gives independent developers a lot more space for freedom and creativity, which can result in some unique, and often some incredibly fun games. Independent can range anywhere from a 50-man team working in an office to Cousin Steve working out of Auntie Ann's basement.

I have made the bold statement that 2011 will be the year independent games take over the scene. How can I back up this claim? There are several trends I have recently noticed that all tie together:

1. Higher sales of downloadable games: With online platforms such as Steam, downloads have risen dramatically. In fact, 2010 was the first year that more downloadable games were sold then retail games(I singlehandedly led this push). However, not all games downloaded are independent. In fact, most are probably major games(though no one can be sure). However, this does prove that, as gamers start to download more and buy in a box less, that independent games will have a lot easier time selling their games, as it is much easier to simply sell a game through Steam, or through your own website then in a store.

2. Dramatic rise in sales of Xbox indie games: Most xbox 360 owners have seen the indie game section of their game marketplace. And statistics show that in the past year, more of them have actually been purchasing these games, possibly due to Microsoft's implementation of a ratings feature for these games. Arcade games have also been on a steady rise since the release of the xbox 360, and while not all arcade games are independent(such as Battlefield 1943), many of them are.

3. Massive success of recent PC indie games: While Xbox has its way of distributing independent games, PC is where indie games will have their greatest growth. Or I should say, are already having their greatest growth. The best example of this is the ridiculously high sales of Minecraft, the java-written cube shaped sandbox sensation(minecraft.net). Since the release of a paid version last June, nearly 900,000 purchases have been made, making Notch(minecraft's creator) one of the richest men in independent game development. He has since started up a company to help with the development of minecraft and other projects. Another example I just recently have heard about is haxball, a free online flash soccer meets air hockey game(haxball.appspot.com). In 4 short months, haxball has spread across the internet like wildfire, and despite its ridiculously simple controls has consumed thousands of man hours(and many hours of my own). This trend will surely continue, and don't be surprised when more games such as minecraft sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

While the success of notch may make it appear otherwise, indie game development is a poor career choice. Even the most succesful Xbox Live indie developers can hardly make a living for one person. However, the low prices attract a lot of players, and as more and more people discover the wonders of indie gaming, those sales numbers will continue to grow, and more and more indie games will be produced as more people realize they too want a slice of the pie. While they will never break the sales records of Black Ops, indie games are definitely the thing to watch(and play) in 2011.

Clarifications and Responses to E-sport article

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A lot of people came in and bashed my article about e-sports i wrote yesterday. Some people came in like gentleman(thanks shadowHYREN) and I respect them. But anyhow, here is my response to those people, summed up in here because I dont want to leave a million more comments that no one will read.

Let me start by saying that gaming IS in fact, a sport.

Sport: Noun - an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc. (taken from dictionary.com)

Notice that it says skill OR physical prowess. Meaning that something can be a sport without taking physical energy. If you doubt that competitive gaming takes skill, then you need to try harder, or play against people more challenging.

Now when I say e-sports, that is a completely different thing then watching your friend play final fantasy at his house. This is watching 2 of the best players or teams in the world duke it out on exciting games. I can understand how you think watching someone play the bioshock would get boring, no matter how good they are, but its the competition that is exciting.

shadowHYREN brought up the idea that most progamers are whiny kids. He brought up MLG as an example. I don't really watch MLG or any american leagues(most are poorly run, I will get to that in my next article), but that league may have whiny gamers. However, in Korea, since gaming is so big, they mostly have to have good manners. Part of it is Korean culture, which is different then american culture, however if a Korean pro has bad manners, it will cause a scandal and all that bad stuff. Only one player in Korea I have seen have bad manners, and I watch a lot of Starcraft.

Raizeen mentioned that they are already popular in America. He said "over 6k people where watching cs sk vs h2k on hltv not to mention the other 5k watching them at the lan so people saying its not popular dont know jack." Let me tell you, 11 thousand people is a very small audence. At the 2004 Proleague finals, there were 250,000 people watching in person, not to count the millions more watching on TV. While that type of viewership is far off in America and Europe, that is what I mean by a large audience.

That's all I have to say right now. I probably won't be able to answer anyone else's questions since I am leaving tomorrow for a week. In a month or so I'll probably have part 2 of my e-sports in America thing written up.

How e-sports will become big in America: Part 1: Become socially acceptable

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I'm sure you have all wished that electronic sports become popular in America. Imagine how awesome it would be to have video games broadcasted on TV like they are in Korea. However, most people think that it can't happen, or is a long ways off. I to agree that there isn't much chance for e-sports to become as dominant a part of culture as they are in Korea. However, there are some things that must happen for progress to go along. This blog is the first of a series in which I will explain what must happen for professional gaming to become the next big thing, using Korea as a model.

Now obviously, there will be few sponsors outside of the gaming and computer world that will want to sponsor a gaming event, as competitive gaming is looked down upon in todays society. But how will we make e-sports more socially acceptable? Lets look at Korea. One of the reasons professional gaming is so big in Korea is that playing computer games is a very common leisure activity. After a hard day at school(Korean schools are extremely difficult compared to american schools), one of the most popular destinations for students is PC Bangs(pronounced bong), where they can spend 1000-2000 won(1-2 USD) an hour for access to a computer with high-speed internet and an assortment of popular games, such as Starcraft, Warcraft 3, Lineage, and World of Warcraft. And instead of getting sucked into their virtual world by themselves, they are with their friends. It is just a normal hang-out destination, such as a coffee shop or mall in America.

However, as we all know, the cybercafe(American equivalent of a PC Bang) business is not doing well in America. If current trends continue, they will be nonexistent within a few years. In my case, our entire county has one cybercafe with 16 computers, and I will be surprised if it is still around in 1 year. The reason? We figured we could save money by just playing unlimited gaming on our own internet for our monthly subscription, instead of paying the relatively high price(compared to korean PC bangs) of 4-5 USD to access a computer at a cybercafe. This in turn made gaming an antisocial activity, because you are just sitting alone at your computer for hours on end.

There is little we can do to stop the extinction of cybercafes. You can try to support them, but that is extremely hard on your own wallet, especially in these hard times. A great alternative to going to a cybercafe is to set up your own LANs with a few friends, and have frequent parties(or just have them bring a PC over for a few hours on Fridays). Sure, it's not nearly as easy as going to a cybercafe, with a PC already there for you to just go and play on, but its a lot cheaper, and if there is renewed interest in LAN gaming, it may just bring the cybercafes back, as well as show the world that we do not just sit in our basement all day, alone.

How to set up a LAN that can be frequently used(also works for consoles, just make sure they bring a TV):

1. Find someone in your circle of friends who has an area that is large enough to fit everybody, and has tables and chairs as well. Garages are great for this, or large basements. Living rooms, if large enough, can be used as well, or you can use a living room and dining room combo. During the summer you could even LAN outside!

2: Buy the necessary equipment. You will need a switch capable of meeting your needs. An ethernet switch basically is just a wireless LAN in a box. You connect your modem to the switch, and all the computers to the switch. Wireless may sound easier, but some people don't have laptops with wireless, and it can be less reliable and slower. Shop around for a switch that meets your needs, you shouldn't have to pay any more then $100, and you and your friends can pool together the money and only pay a few bucks each. You also need a long enough ethernet cable to connect your modem to where the LAN will be.

3. Throw an event. Stress-test your system with a 12-hour overnighter, and show your friends how much more fun it is. When throwing the event, make sure you keep everyone fed and caffeinated. My favorite energy drink is NOS, it has a lot of caffeine and tastes good. For food you can just order pizza, or start the party after dinnertime and just have everyone bring chips. It's best to have everyone chip in on this, because energy drinks are expensive, and you will probably need 2 per person to get through 12 hours. For more information on this part, go to http://www.wikihow.com/Host-a-LAN-Party.

NOTE: It may seem tedious to lug around a desktop computer, but its really not much harder then consoles. Just a few more peripherals. Also, make sure everyone brings headphones.

4. Keep using it, now that you and your friends are acquainted with the great joys of lanning. Get together on Saturdays for 6 hours, and occasionaly have over nighters. Tell your other friends about it, they may think your weird at first but will soon realize its no different then watching a movie with your friends. Keep inviting new people over, they will find it to be great fun as well.

With these simple steps, you can turn your gaming time from personal time to party time! Together we can change the image of competitive gaming to a much more positive one, and take the first step into bringing e-sports into America.

So I got featured on the user soapbox

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Woohoo. I was totally not expecting that, as the article was somewhat poorly written in like 10 minutes of my spare time on a sunday night. What does this mean for my blog? I am certainly not doing a weekly thing like i have tried in my past. I will probably blog here more often, since I am getting more into gaming recently, but my blog will probably not mostly be soapbox material, not something all gamers can relate to. I am a competitive gamer, I do not seek to get lost into a world far away, but am destined to pwn noobs. While I doubt you will see many starcraft specific articles(if i get into the sc2 beta i will do a write-up on that, and when sc2 comes out I'll probably just stick to a user review) I will try to cover the developement of e-sports, news that gamespot doesn't care to bring to you. If I get any more blog ideas that are more mainstream I will try to write them a little better then that recession one, and maybe you will see me in the soapbox again in the future.

Thats all I have to say, starting next Tuesday I will be gone for about 3 weeks and then a couple weeks after that school is starting, harder classes this year(Chem Honors, Math Analysis Honors, Spanish 3 and AP Us History, ouch!). But with StarCraft 2 coming out, there will be more e-sports related stuff for me to write about, as well as random things like the recession article.

Why the video game industry is NOT recession proof

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Towards the beginning of the recession, video games seemed to be doing fine, selling just as well as before. People claimed they were recession-proof, and may even thrive in a recession, such as the movie industry. Then came the June 2009 NPD numbers(http://www.gamespot.com/news/6213540.html?tag=result;title;0). Compared to June 2008, there were 31% less sales. While some claim this is just because there were few major titles released, I think it is due to the fact that not only are video games not recession-proof, but that they actually suffer terrible during a recession.

Why do I think this? While it may seem to go along with the trends of other entertainment(such as movies in the great depression) that video games would thrive, you simply need to think of it as a gamer, not an analyst. What do you do when you are strapped for cash? Certainly not go out and spend $60 on a new game! Movies are much cheaper, which is why they thrive. You can go to the theater for $10, or the equivalent of 2 happy meals, compared to buying a new game for $60, the price of 12 happy meals.

Now of course comes the obligatory argument, "Games are more worth it because they have more replay value." While this may hold true under normal circumstances, this actually works against games in a recession. Because people can't afford to buy new games, they have to find other ways to entertain themselves, which is extremely easy as a gamer. If your reading this you probably have shelves full of games you haven't played in years. Revisiting old games means you don't have to buy new games, and can get you many many hours out of games you have forgotten. Say you have 20 good old games, each takes about 10 hours to beat. That's a full 200 hours of entertainment that the gamer already had in his/her closet, without paying a single penny.

Another thing that is becoming more popular, and is helped along by the recession, is competitive multiplayer gaming. Aside from the $50 yearly xbox live subscription fee, a gamer can play halo 3, call of duty 4, team fortress 2, all games they already have, and get hundreds of hours of multiplayer enjoyment out of those alone. And if they have multiplayer gaming habits, they will most likely make sure the purchases they make will be just as productive, meaning that their next $60 purchase will last them just as long as those other games have, meaning a longer period until another purchase. This is where I personally get my entertainment. My game is StarCraft: Brood War. I paid $20 two years ago to buy the battlechest(Game+expansion) and have gotten hundreds of hours out of that game alone, and im not even close to peaking.

The last way gamers get more bang for their buck is by cheaper "casual" games, and in the case of PC gamers, free games. A recent rising trend has been downloadable arcade games on xbox live. For just a few dollars, you can download a game that could potentially get you 10-20 hours of entertainment, or maybe even more. Audiosurf for the PC has gotten me 30-40 hours off of a $10 purchase, and geometry wars has gotten me about 10 hours on a $4 purchase. For more hardcore gamers, You can still get cheap games that pack a lot of competitive value, such as Battlefield 1943. Free games are also a way PC gamers can waste their free time for nothing. Do not understimate free games, or pass them off as cheap WoW clones. A particular game I have gotten about 10 hours out of called nexuiz was a free downloadable game, based on the original Quake engine, and still provides a lot of intense competition, and costed me nothing. Another way to get something for nothing as a PC gamer is mods. The more popular shooters(source engine, Battlefield 2) have an extroadinary amount of mods that sometimes even make a completely new game, and are all completely free.

As you can see, their are many alternatives for gamers to entertain themselves and forget about the recession for free, forcing game sales lower and lower despite what some optimistic analysts theories predicted. I know I sound gloomy, but sales will most likely go lower and lower until the recession starts to lift. The only way for a studio to live is to figure out what a gamer wants to buy in this environment. Gamers don't want to buy a 6-hour long game for $60, but would rather buy a multiplayer game with unlimited replay value for $30. But as for the health of the industry, we will just have to wait and see. It will definitely survive, given the amount of gamers is higher then ever, but the condition it emerges from the recession in will be very poor.

My experience with the iPod as a gaming platform.

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It may seem ridiculous. This little music player...as a portable gaming device? I have an iPod Classic 80GB model, so all I have is that little wheel. If you haven't seen the video of the "Macbook Wheel" by the onion, I recommend you look it up on youtube. If you have seen that, you know how ridiculously stupid it is to try to do computer processes with a wheel. And you may think, how could you possibly play games on it? Well, if the developers aren't complete idiots, they should be able to figure out a decent way to control the game. While most of what you can find for the iPod(other then the touch) is absolute garbage, here are a few games I have had a spectacular time with.

PHASE(Harmonix): At first glance, this is simply portable Guitar Hero. Except with only 3 frets. But it is really much more. As in rhythm games such as Audiosurf, you can import your own songs into the game to play, and the game will make a "beatmap" for it(Note: The problem with this is it actually does this in itunes, which means you have to have your own playlist for phase in itunes, and it can only hold 1000 songs). It does this somewhat decently. However, songs that change tempo frequently, or were recorded before the age of tap tempo(where bands could drift as much as 15 beats per minute by the end of the song), you will often find the hits off-beat, which can become very frustrated. However, newer recordings, or electronic music work very well. In addition to hitting the 3 frets with the rewind, center, and fast forward buttons, you must also use the wheel to capture what I call "snakes," which are little snake looking things that go across the screen. My biggest complaint about this game is that it is to easy. Although rhythm games normally come easy to me, I was able to get 95% accuracy on the hard setting(there is no "expert") after having the game for just 1 day. And since the songs are all the same, there will never be a Through the Fire and the Flames to try to beat. Overall, anyone who is into rhythm games should buy this game.

Rating: 7.0

CRYSTAL DEFENDERS(Square Enix): Square Enix is one of the few developers taking the iPod serious as a gaming platform. And Crystal Defenders is their second release. This game is basically a tower defense game. You buy Final Fantasy themed units, place them along a Final Fantasy themed area, and they then shoot at Final Fantasy themed monsters which try to go along the road. If they pass through the road they take 1 crystal. The game is over when you lose all 20. Unlike many tower defense games, this lets you decide when the next wave will start, which is helpful considering the controls are a bit harder then on a PC. You earn money for killing monsters, and you can spend it on more units, or levelling up your existing units to increase their range and attack power. There are a total of 8 maps to play on, and 4 types of areas. Replay value is very high, because you want to get further in the wave and get higher scores, and it gives you a one more wave mentality. Also a very good game for students, considering you can play a wave and put it away in just a couple minutes, making it easy to play during class(EE2Lemmonhead, gamespot.com, and Square Enix do not condone using Digital Entertainment Software during class). The controls are pretty easy to use. You tap up, left, down, or right to move the cursor in that direction, and press center to buy units or select an existing unit.

Rating: 8.5

SONG SUMMONER(Square Enix): The first game from Square Enix, this is a much more serious and complete game. The game is a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics. You create "Tune Troopers" by going to the Hip-o-Drome and creating them out of a song on your iPod. The most common questions I get are "If you play a techno song do you get a robot?" or "If you play a Metal song do you get some metalhead?" or even "If you play a country song do you get a cowboy?" and the answer is no. The game has preset characters which it randomly chooses for your song. The only parts of the song which have an effect on the characters stats seem to be its title and length. Certain words in the title, such as rock, give it better stats. You can then train your characters to higher levels(Bronze to Silver to Gold to Platinum) using "Pitch Pearls" earned in battle or in the Rehearsal Room. You can then go out and do story missions. Be careful what Troopers you choose, because they have a limited number of deployments and you lose them forever when they run out. As for actual battles, you move your troopers around the map and have them attack or use skills on enemy creatures. Different maps have different objectives, and some have different gameplay elements as well. If you attack a "Groove Box" on the map, it raises your troopers groove level up by a certain amount, however, if the enemy attacks one, it makes your groove level go down. There are other varios gameplay elements in the battles which I do not feel a need to explain. As for the story, it is somewhat cheesy. The robots are trying to kill humanity because it is imperfect and human music is imperfect. You are a "conductor," someone who can summon Tune Troopers. Basically it is all based around music, and using music to fight the robots. While it is very hard to get into the story, the game is very fun to play and probably the most complete game on the iPod.

Rating: 8.0

Given that all these games are only $5, it is not a bad idea to purchase them all. You can also browse the other games, however some are just cashing in on a franchise(there are about 3 sims games on it) and some which may sound good have terrible controls(such as tetris and sonic the hedgehog). Considering that I dont have any other portable platforms, I have been in heaven since I bought these games, and while they are not the same quality as something on a DS or PSP, definitely deserve a try, given their low price tag.

Bullet Dodgers *SPOILER ALERT*

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Why does the good guy never die? Don't you ask yourself this? When James Bond is getting shot at by 100 guys at once, why does he never get even a simple flesh wound?

SPOLERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOLERS SPOILERS

SPOILERS AHEAD

SPOLIERS SPOILERS

A lot of inspiration for this post comes from, of course, halo 3. I would be much happier if Master Chief died. I mean, that really makes me feel like the ending is more satisfying. But a number of movies/games/books pretend to kill their main character and don't. I was also deeply disappointed that Harry Potter didnt die in book 7, because first of all, it shows people that some things are worth dying for, and second of all, we wouldn't have that terrible 20 years later part or whatever that was at the end. Good guys just seem to evade death at every step, a little to much for my liking. I would like to see James Bond die. I know most people don't, but come on, he's had so many people shooting at him, some day one of those bullets is bound to pierce his skull. Obviously, that's not going to happen, for the obvious reason that the series would no longer make money with the main character dead.

Some of my favorite movies kill the main character at the end. Star Wars, for example, has Anakin die at the end. And after watching it, your really satisfied. The message in media today is that death is a bad, bad thing, and that you can save the world and live. So media companies, please consider how unoriginal it is for the main character to fake die and come back to life. Please kill some of your characters. Maybe Gordon Freeman will die at the end of episode 3. Maybe Jim Raynore dies in StarCraft 2. Either way, I'm looking forward to see the limbs of my favorite characters dismembered in the name of justice!

gg

Future of Gaming Technology

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When you think of the future of gaming, what comes to mind? Uber realism with 10808080808080p resolution and completely realistic physics where each molecule of matter is digitally simulated? Do you think of seamless multiplayer matches with a million people in one room shooting 500 bullets(with the molecular simulation of course) per second from each gun with a frame per second faster than the human eye can see it? Do you think of top-down 64x64 shooters where theres only 1 gun in the game and 1 level with 2 enemies on it(i hope not)? I will give you my view of the future of gaming.

RTS: I think the RTS genre is being split, and will further be split. Currently there are all sorts of RTS games out there. There is slow strategical, tech-based ones(Supreme Commander), fast traditional ones(Command and Conquer 3, StarCraft 2), there are fast resourceless ones(World in Conflict, Total War Series) and there are all the games from Relic(Company of Heroes, Dawn of War) which have their own resource system which i do not feel like explaining at this time. So my guess on what happens in the RTS genre? More branching out. Big bucks will be made pleasing the non-RTS players which simplify/take out resources, there will be traditional RTS games, meant to please the RTS veteran, and there will be those in between.

FPS: I think FPS will stay the way it is...most of it's branching off was done in the 90's/early 00's and for now we will see class-based ones(Battlefield Series, Team Fortress 2) and will continue to see games that deal with the distribution of weapons in different ways(picking them up like in most deathmatch games, buying them like counter strike). This will probably just keep going the way it is, with games in varying levels of intensity.

MMO: I think we will see more experimentation in the MMO category. We just saw Tabula Rasa which i think has a very fresh combat system and will definitely get reviewed at least 8.5 with gamespot. We will definitely continue to see fantasy MMOGs but really, most of us would like something else right? As for combat systems, there will be experimentation but most people will try to stick with the tried and true method of right clicking the bad guy and selecting your spells.

Fighters: I think fighters will continue to diversify in the type of attacks, numerity of attacks, and numbers of characters you can select. I also think physics will soon become a more pressing role in fighters, to make fights look much more fluid and realistic.

Platformers: Most likely stay the same. Once Big N releases that Wii SDK thing for people to sell stuff over VC we will see a lot of diversity in Wii platformers. As for 360 and P$3, stay the same.

Racing: Racing games will branch into 2 main different types: Realistic and Arcade-style. They really already are like this, so...ya. Again, physics will improve to make crashes look better and have a more realistic effect on your car.

RPG: Definitely stay the same. RPG fans mostly dont show need for new mechanics or anything, as the main fun of RPGs is getting more 3p!c l3w7 =)

Simulations: As simulations are geared toward realism being the genre it is, definitly will just look better, and physics will make everything even more simulized. Unless your talking about city managing sims in which there are few of and will probably just stay the same due to lack of competition.

Graphics: Graphics will branch out into 2 different types Stylized and Realistic. New technology will push realism further, and the recent success of Team Fortress 2 shows that stylized graphics have their place. Not after long, though, realism will be hard to push forward due to the uncanny valley(google it) and the realism graphics will be trying to do more stuff such as lighting and draw distances.

gg

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