Virtual Choir

I know this isn’t related to class, but this video is so amazing that I need to share it with as many people as possible. If you’ve heard the name Eric Whitacre, you may have heard of his virtual choir project; basically, people upload videos of themselves singing to YouTube, and those videos get edited together to form a huge virtual choir, with all parts being sung by people from around the world. This video had 2052 singers from 58 different countries performing Eric Whitacre’s Sleep, one of my favorite choir pieces ever written. I love how wonderfully this video shows off the power of the internet.

So, I know it’s not game related, but if TED asked Whitacre to do a TEDTalk on this project, I think it’s worth a watch.

Here’s the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WhWDCw3Mng

The End of an Era

I had no idea that this was today (actually, now it’s yesterday). Yesterday marked the 10-year anniversary of the release of the Game Boy Advance in Japan. Why is this such a big deal? It basically marked the end of the Game Boy era. Nintendo would release two more Game Boy systems (the Advance SP, incorporating a smaller frame for smaller hands and a backlit screen and then the Game Boy Micro) but the Advance was the last big handheld system before the DS’s release.

http://kotaku.com/#!5784259/ten-years-ago-today-the-last-game-boy-was-born/gallery

I remember buying my ticket that guaranteed me a GBA on launch day in the US, and then going to Wal-Mart that morning to pick it up and get my first game (Castlevania: Circle of the Moon) and being so incredibly excited in the weeks leading up to launch. I thought I’d share that bit of nostalgia with you all.

Mature Games

http://kotaku.com/#!5782792/just-5-percent-of-games-were-rated-m-last-year-says-esrb

According to the ESRB, only 5% of all games last year were rated “M” for mature. Over HALF (55%) were rated at E for everyone. I find this interesting because almost everything you hear about games is how bad they are, how much violence they have, etc., when a lot of games are actually rated lower than M.

There’s also been a battle going on in Australia over “mature” games; Australia currently has no game rating for 18+ (they only have an MA15+ rating), so games like Mortal Kombat and Manhunt get banned because they can’t be classified under the Australian rating system. Other games, like Left 4 Dead 2, the GTA series and the FEAR series, have to be modified to reduce the violence/gore/language in order to be rated.

There’s currently a battle going in in Australia over this: the federal government may step in over the Attorney Generals or the State Representatives to get an 18+ classification approved.

http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/03/oconnor-and-r18-im-not-going-to-let-this-matter-end/

I’ve been reading about this issue for a while just because of the gaming blogs I follow, and it’s nice to see Australia’s federal government stepping in to actually do something about it.

More Games and Military

I recently came across an article about video games helping veterans control their combat dreams. Note that these soldiers aren’t diagnosed with PTSD. The article says that the “higher-gaming” group, veterans who played “hardcore” games (Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption, etc.) and played more often, often felt more in-control of their dreams, that they were less intense, and that they could fight back. Their lower gamer category (people who played less often and tended to play more casual games) often felt more helpless than their higher-gaming counterparts.

It’s an interesting article about how games can be applied for something other than entertainment (not necessarily learning, but definitely an important application) and I hope you all take the chance to at least skim over it.

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/onepercent/2011/03/can-video-games-quell-nightmar.html

Creating New Games in Defined Spaces

I know a lot of you know the Halo series. The Halo series (and the entire universe, because as a huge Halo fan, I’ve read all the books and comics and tried to find out as much as I can about it) is one of my favorite game series, not just because of the story or the gameplay, but also because as of Halo 3 Bungie (the game’s developer) added a creativity aspect to it.

They called it Forge. And not even Bungie knew how it would redefine Halo multiplayer.

At first, people used Forge to simply create new maps for the preset gametypes built into Halo. Then something amazing happened. People came up with their own game types. I remember the first time I loaded up a race track map and thinking “This is amazing!” The game was never meant to support a game like that but the players added it themselves.

This happened to some extent with Halo 2; players created their own “zombies” gametype that Bungie actually added as a game preset in Halo 3. However, this is not nearly on the same scale as Forge which lets players not only the game settings (spawn, lives, team traits, etc.) but also the map itself (spawn, items, weapons, basically everything but terrain).

One of the biggest Forge games is Grifball, a game created by the guys over at Rooster Teeth (creators of the popular Red vs. Blue machinima) as a joke (Grifball is referenced a few times in the series) by modifying game settings and a map to be what they needed. The game took off, and Bungie made it a playlist in Halo 3 and then a built-in gametype in Halo: Reach.

Speaking of Halo: Reach, Bungie outdid themselves with Forge; Forge 2.0, as they call it, takes a lot of features the community “hacked” around (improvising ways to get items to mesh together is just one example of something the community did that ended up as a feature in Forge 2.0).

Something that I’ve been watching for a few months now is called Achievement HORSE (run by the guys at Achievement Hunter, one of the parts of Rooster Teeth) and is the main point of this post.

Achievement HORSE started as a goofy idea between 2 of the guys in the office; what if they both made a few maps with some well-defined goals (make a mine explode after driving along a treacherous track, for example) and played HORSE (like the basketball game). The result was a highly entertaining and creative video featuring two of the guys in the office (Geoff and Jack) that immediately gained a following on their site; within a week they were getting emails from people who created maps for them to use in making the competition videos (Jack and Geoff always filmed the games so they could post them online) and now they have so many submissions that there’s an enormous lag between submitting and them even looking at your map.

This game is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen done with a video game. They took a concept not even remotely built into the game or related to Halo and, with the Forge tools, created their own gametype that is taking off on the internet. The Forge tool in general is amazing just from its map-editing standpoint; I love loading up their huge Forge World map and just building something, whether it’s an actual game space or just something pointless but fun. Things like Achievement HORSE elevate Forge even more! I can guarantee that Bungie never expected people to be playing Horse in Halo (like they didn’t expect people to make art or Rube Goldberg machines), yet people DID. That’s what’s so great about Forge and the Forge community: they took a tool the developer gave them and did things nobody expected.

I love Forge and am proud to be a part of the Forge and Halo communities. It’s a great and unconventional way to express yourself in the Halo universe and game setting.

Games On the Front Lines [Kotaku]

This is a really great article on how our troops are using video games in Afghanistan and Iraq during their off-time. I wasn’t aware that soldiers were allowed to bring gaming devices/laptops overseas, but it makes sense so that they don’t lose their minds from boredom.

One of the Marines interviewed actually said playing Call of Duty 4 made him think more about the fact that he was taking a life from his Humvee; he couldn’t really see the death from his gunner position, but when playing CoD you’re often in a direct line of sight of who you’re shooting.

There are some really great stories and anecdotes in this article and I highly recommend you all to take a look at it.

Games on the Front Lines (via Kotaku)

Your Identity (as Master Chief)

I recently came across an article interviewing Bungie‘s Joseph Staten about the creation of Master Chief, the protagonist of 3 of the Halo games and one of the most recognizable characters in video game history. Here’s the link:

http://www.industrygamers.com/news/be-yourself-or-not-halo/

I found it interesting that they specifically talk about the players identifying with Master Chief, that they intentionally left him as more of a blank slate so people would see themselves as Master Chief (I know it worked on me!). Remember Gee’s principle of Identity, that good learning comes from being able to take on new identities related to the task at hand.

The part about Cortana’s evolution intrigues me, too. She started off as a person in your ear, just telling you what to do. But by the end of the 2nd game (even the 1st game, to some extent) you saw more of a human side of her, and that in turn brought out more of the human side of John (Master Chief’s real name).

I initially thought that humanizing Chief more would make him less relatable. However, after I thought about it, I realized it actually made him MORE relatable, at least for me. If the character I’m playing as has no backstory, if he/she is just some nameless person with no personality, I don’t get as attached (this excludes games like Fallout or Oblivion, where you create your character and there is some minimal, general backstory). But when I see that the character acts more like a human, and I can get involved in their backstory (for example, that Master Chief was (supposedly) the last Spartan made him totally awesome, like he was badass enough to survive. I say supposedly because in the Halo books/graphic novels we learn that there are still other Spartan-IIs surviving, and an entirely new program of Spartan-IIIs). The fact that John shows his human side around Cortana, and they have an emotional relationship, made it easier to think of myself as Master Chief.

As a sidenote, if you couldn’t tell, I really enjoy the Halo series. I know there are a lot of people who despise and hate it, but it’s been one of my top game series for a very long time now.

NASA’s MoonBase Alpha

In this week’s reading from Edge, it talks about a STEM-education-related game being developed for NASA. They also mention that part of the game, MoonBase, is available on Steam. I did a quick search and turns out it is!

http://store.steampowered.com/app/39000/?snr=1_4_4__13

I haven’t been able to download it yet (I rarely boot my MacBook Pro into Windows and the game isn’t available for Mac yet) but if you get a chance you should check it out and let us know how it is!

Video Games And Divorce

First-off, I’d like to freely admit that I can’t stand MMOs. I tried World of Warcraft once with a friend of mine (I had a 10-day trial key) and got so incredibly bored that I stopped playing before my 10 days were up. That being said, I recognize that some people (like the friend I tried it with) get real enjoyment out of video games. I recently came across this story on Kotaku that I thought I’d share with everyone to highlight incorrect stereotypes surrounding video games (especially MMOs).

http://kotaku.com/5741038/warcraft-helped-her-get-through-a-divorce

Playing World of Warcraft helped this now-single mother and her son through a divorce and also helped mother and son understand each other better. This is one of the best uses for video games that I’ve seen in a long time!

A History of Video Games

Did you know that the very first video games were made using oscilloscopes?  Well, they were! That’s how games like PONG started out. Here’s a video that shows a brief history of games, from the oscilloscopes up to the PS3 and Xb0x 360!

http://vimeo.com/18743950

I’m a little disappointed that the video didn’t show a more Xbox-exclusive game (they show Rock Band instead of an exclusive title like Halo: Reach or Fable 2, whereas they use God of War 3 on the PS3 and Super Smash Bros. Melee for the GameCube, both of which are exclusives), but the evolution is pretty neat.

Also, fun aside that you may not be able to tell in the video, Mario of Super Mario fame was actually first featured in the original Donkey Kong arcade game!

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