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Polybren Blog

Check out USgamer

Just in case anybody here is still following my blog, I've started writing for, a new site run by Gamer Network. I'll still be doing my normal news and interviews for GamesIndustry International, but USgamer is a more consumer-focused site, so I'll be doing some reviews there (already did Muramasa and Soul Sacrifice for Vita), as well as editorials and other fun stuff. Here are a few pieces I've already published:

Merely Wires and Lights in a Box

Top 10 Pride-Swallowing Moments in Gaming History

I Wish Microsoft Kept its Awful Xbox One Policies

Flying Laser Jesus and Gaming's Citizen Kane

Here's a list of all my USG stuff to date.

Check it out and let us know how you like it!

Assassin's Creed: Liberation and a new blog

Just wanted to let anybody still following me here know that I set up a new blog for the sort of writing I previously would have put here. So far it's thoughts on Wreck-It Ralph and Man with the Iron Fists, as well as a review for Assassin's Creed: Liberation. I've been playing lot of Gravity Rush recently, so I might write something on that once I finish it. The super-short versions is "It's very good, and I was silly not to check it out earlier."

Chick-Fil-A, Zynga, EA, and LGBT equality

I found it kind of odd after the Chick-Fil-A controversy earlier this year that some publicly traded companies in the gaming world like EA and Zynga have taken prominent stands in support of LGBT issues, even though their games like Madden and Draw Something have a broad appeal that covers plenty of people who wouldn't necessarily support those views. So basically, I wanted to see if shareholders would have preferred them to just keep quiet on the issue rather than risk alienating a chunk of the customer base. I was a little surprised by what they told me:

FIFA 13, where game quality is an afterthought

From EA's press release for FIFA 13 day-one sales:

"Momentum in North America was fuelled by a launch event in New York hosted by Snoop Lion that propelled the hashtag #SnoopsFIFA13 trending in the United States and worldwide on Twitter, midnight openings at over 2,000 retail stores across the country, and game quality."

In praise of Bayonetta's story

No, not really. But I will say that Bayonetta's creators made Choices in coming up with that story. I may not have understood them all, and not all of them worked well, but I appreciate that they made big, bold, creative decisions about the story they wanted to tell. And I will take an interesting failure over a paint-by-numbers success any day of the week. This is also why I love Nicolas Cage so damn much.

If you're curious what I'm on about, it's in response to this:

There's something wrong with gamer culture

So I wrote this article this week:

which got about a 99.9% negative response. Then we recorded this Quoted for Truth episode:;FridayShows;IsGameAddictionAndCon

Which got a slightly better resposne. But it was this response above all that salvaged my weekend and made me think that maybe we, as gamers, have some hope after all:


wow I tended to lean on the side of chastising that taiwanese gamer for irresponsibility, but really Brendan makes a great point that stopped me dead in my tracks. Especially since I refuse to buy Blizzard games by the very nature of their "exploitative design". So If my feelings extend to the extent of boycott why not have the decency to empatize with someone else's plight. I really hate being wrong, but I made a misjudgement here. Huh...I truly learned a beautiful lesson today.

The longer I think about it, the more convinced I am that gamer culture, as it stands today, is harmful. We only come together in massive displays of unison in order to hype products, as you might see at Comic-Con and PAX. But we are capable of so very much more.

I managed an arcade in downtown Austin for a couple years, and it was the gamer regulars that often gave me a safe ride home at night after we closed at 1 a.m., or even just killed a work shift here and there playing Magic: The Gathering. They were the people who just loved games and wanted to help others out, the people whom I would never suspect of short-changing the till or cheating a customer. I walked away from that experience with a profound appreciation for the kindness and generosity of "my people," of those branded "nerds" or "geeks," of those who understood their interests could make them pariahs but embraced them anyway. But recent years have me second-guessing myself, and the community I once considered to be "my people." I've seen too much hate vented online for no good reason, too many dead people responded to with too much apathy.

It appears to me that gamers have a serious empathy deficit. And I almost don't care if politicians sieze on this point to bring about wrong-headed legislation, because we've brought it on ourselves. Every right comes with a responsibility. The right to free speech comes with the responsibility to say something meaningful (or at least not harmful to society), especiallly if you're going to tick everyone off and hurt people with what you say. And as near as I can tell, there are fewer than five AAA games in the last five years that have tried to say something more significant than, "Hooray for whatever our target demographic wants." We have the genesis of a new art form here, perhaps the last truly original art form humanity will ever produce (what frontier is left after the audience can personally interact with art?), and we have wasted it on the idea of shooting foreigners in the head to give adolescent violence fetishists a cheap thrill.

[EDIT]: I've given the matter a bit more thought, and since realized that I have overlooked some very good things gamers do on a regular basis, like the Child's Play charity drive. That said, I still believe there are negative aspects of gamer culture that we must first acknowledge and declare to be unacceptable before we can make them better.

A Confusing Look at the Future of Gaming

Capcomannounced the release date for Street Fighter X Tekken for PS Vita yesterday, along with plans to provide customers with up to three different downloadable codes to unlock content in the portable and PS3 editions of the game. This led to me asking for some clarification from Capcom PR, since their announcement didn't spell out every permutation of delivery method and incentive(s). The resulting Q&A is a peek at where we're headed, and what a pain current trends in the industry really are for people who just want to know exactly what they can expect when they make a purchasing decision.

Are the 12 new Vita characters not playable right from the start?

- The 12 new VITA characters are playable right from the start in both the retail and digital VITA versions of the game. For the retail version: if you wish to play these characters on your PS3 as well, you simply need to enter the printed DLC download code that comes with the retail disc to redeem them on your PS3.

Basically, is this like an Online Pass setup where those who buy the game used would need to buy them as DLC in order to unlock them?

- If users buy a used retail copy of the game, they will still have access to the 12 DLC character on their VITA because they are available standard as mentioned. However, if the enclosed DLC codes have already been redeemed by the previous owner of the game, they will not be able to put the 12 new character DLC on their PS3, or the 38 alternate costume DLC content on their VITA or PS3.

If I buy the game digitally at launch, will I get the 12 new characters?

- The digital VITA version comes with the 12 characters standard from the very beginning, just like the retail version. In addition, the purchase history of the 12 characters will be recorded on the user's PSN ID record, so they can redeem them for free on their PS3.

How about the alternate costume DLC for the 38 standard characters?

- The 38 character alternate costume DLC comes as a printed DLC download code for the VITA retail version. This DLC can be shared between the VITA and PS3. For the digital version, the purchase history of the 38 character alternate costume DLC will be recorded on the user's PSN ID, and thus can be redeemed for free on VITA and PS3.

Or the alternate costume DLC for the 12 new characters?

- The alternate costume DLC is available as a pre-order bonus for the retail copy of the game. This DLC can be shared between the VITA and the PS3. The DLC will be available for other users later on.

Nintendo investor asks Iwata best question ever

This is from Nintendo's latest shareholder Q&A on their investor relations website:

Q:I would like to know about the current situation of the company?s operations in China and what problems you have in doing business there. Apart from this specific question, I have an idea for you: I would like you to energetically create software filled with dreams that is exciting for both children and adults. On NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), I watched the news that Mr. Miyamoto, a senior director of the company, recently won a globally acclaimed award. To create such excellent games, I hope Mr. Iwata and Mr. Miyamoto will go through various experiences, including deadly adventures like crossing the Sahara on camelback or exploring the Amazon, full of piranhas, anacondas and crocodiles, together with the company?s other game creators.

If you care about the answer, you can find it here: I guarantee you it can't be as great as the question.

Nintendo embracing its inner Wario

In season five of Fox's medical drama House, the episode "Here Kitty" opens with the grouchy-yet-brilliant doctor playing with Hot Wheels set up around the body of a comatose patient, sending a car down a ramp to literally jump a toy shark. It was a winking nod to the TV trope invoked to mean that a show's writers have run out of ideas, a clever acknowledgement to the audience that while the show would carry on (for another three seasons, it turned out), it would likely do so as a creatively destitute shadow of its already formulaic former self.

At the time, I was a bit amazed at the honesty of the scene, as if the creators of what had until then been a largely excellent show were stepping outside the confines of the program for just a moment to communicate directly with me as a member of the audience. "Things are going to get bad," they seemed to say. "The realities of the marketplace and our need to put food on the table will keep this running for a while yet, but we just want you to know it's never going to be the same. We owe that much to you for your support all these years."

Wario with sack of coins

That moment in a TV show I saw in 2009 was the first thing I thought of when I heard that New Super Mario Bros. 2 would be the first Mario game to feature downloadable content. I already had reservations about the game. When Nintendo showed off a glimpse of it during its Electronic Entertainment Expo media briefing, I was struck by the coin-grabbing focus of the game. Sure, Mario has always picked up coins, but as Nintendo marketing exec Scott Moffit noted on stage, "What you can't help but notice is that this Mario is all about the gold." Coin-lust is a theme Nintendo has played with before, but only with Wario, a character created to represent the opposite of everything Mario embodies. Conveniently, Wario has also been used to satirize shamelessly greedy game publishers in the WarioWare series, essentially presenting such operations as the opposite of everything Nintendo stands for.

So a Mario game fixated on coins raised an eyebrow. But combined with the news of the DLC plan, it presents an irresistibly coherent picture of a creative team signaling a regretful epoch change to the faithful who happen to be paying attention. Well that's what I desperately want to believe, anyway. The truth of the matter is that I just don't think mainstream game developers put that much bigger picture thought into their work, and even when they do, they aren't bold enough to insert subversive candor into their titles. Especially not at Nintendo, proud home of corporate spokespeople with summer homes in the uncanny valley.

Given that, I expect New Super Mario Bros. 2 to be welcomed as a score attack-driven approach to the classic platforming formula. That could be great in and of itself, as I think there are plenty of interesting mechanics the game could crib from latter-day shoot-'em-ups to make for some engaging leaderboard competition. But if this is the beginning of Nintendo's transformation into just another shamelessly greedy game publisher, if the company forsakes the stubborn vision that makes it Nintendo for better and for worse, then we can look back on this and pinpoint New Super Mario Bros. 2 as the inflection point. And we can at least say we were warned.