Watch It This Long Weekend: GDC Vault Now Freely Offering Informative (and Inspirational) Content from GDC 2014

GDC Vault Michelle Clough
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The long weekend just ahead of many of us is a great opportunity to catch up on shows we may have missed, to indulge hobbies we may be neglecting, and of course to spend time with family and friends. But if you're interesting in all the clockwork behind gaming and game culture you may want to use your free time to dive head first into the GDC Vault, where footage and resources from many of the panels from this year's GDC are now freely accessible.

The #1ReasonToBe panel headlined by Brenda Romero and Leigh Alexander is considered one of the must-see panels from the 2014 section of the Vault, but there's loads more of interest too. You can learn about empathy games; you can learn about male character sexualization; you can learn about interpreting feedback without compromising your vision; you learn how to survive internet negativity... You can even learn why Gone Home is a game and not, as some people like to call it, a "walking simulator".

There are four pages of media in the 2014 Vault to sift through, including slides and audio, covering everything from broader social topics to nitty-gritty technical analysis. Check it all out for yourself here.

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If This Video Doesn't Make You Excited About Tomodachi Life, Nothing Will

 
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Right now, every day until June 6th is just another day to cross off my calendar. Why? Because June 6th is when the English version of Tomodachi Life will be released for the Nintendo 3DS in North America. Tomodachi Life, of course, is the sequel to 2009's Tomodachi Collection for the DS, which was never released outside of Japan... And that's a real shame, because these games are absolutely wonderful. Just take a look at the video above if you want to see just how wonderful it can get.

Think of the Tomodachi series like Animal Crossing meets The Sims. In Tomodachi, you're given an island and an apartment complex to populate with yourself, your friends, your favorite characters or celebrities or whoever else you like. You'll take care of them, customize them, and unlock new features as time goes on, but most of the joy is in finding bizarre litle easter eggs and watching the drama that can unfold on its own.

If you want to see more of Tomodachi Life, last week's Nintendo Direct is an absolute must-watch. I also decided to do my homework, and picked up an import copy of the original Tomodachi Collection (pro tip: they're dirt cheap on Amazon) to catch up on what these games have to offer. Look forward to reading about my experiences with it in the near future!

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Play It This Weekend: Solve Pastel Puzzles Straight from M.C. Escher's Dreams in Monument Valley for iOS

Monument Valley
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Pretty little puzzle game Monument Valley is making a splash on the app store this month, and after playing it for myself it's very easy to understand why. It's clever, it's challenging, and above all else its absolutely beautiful. 

If your curiosity has been piqued, keep reading for the details.

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5 Things to Love (and Hate) About The Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls Online  (8)
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The more I time I spend with The Elder Scrolls Online, the more conflicted I feel about it.

Since I wrote about it last Friday I've only gone deeper down the rabbit hole. I still have fun playing (I would have stopped ong ago otherwise), but it seems that for every element I enjoy there's another element working directly against it. Here's what I mean:

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Iris Wants to Know: Which Fantasy RPG Class Do You Love to Play the Most?

ESO Templar Archer
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I've been playing a lot more of The Elder Scrolls Online than I expected to play, and a big part of that has been due to the game's flexible character classes. I'll get into that in more detail later this week (and you can read my launch day post about the game here) but suffice it to say that at some point my two favorite characters became a sorcerer who loads herself up with heavy armor beneath her unassuming cloth robe, and a templar who weilds a shortbow in place of the melee weapons most players of that class favor. These combinations both have advantages and disadvantages, but they've both been much more enjoyable to play than the more "vanilla" characters I've tried.

All this has got me thinking about character classes in general, though. I tend to gravitate towards mages and archers... Even though I still loathe any game that gender-locks female characters into either role. Essentially I want to have a big impact on a fight with lots of flashy effects, but I'd like to remain as strategically placed (and as far away from the action) as possible. That's not to say I don't enjoy melee classes from time to time -- my main alt in Skyrim favored both bows and one-handed weapons -- but I definitely have a preference.

So here's what I want to know: Do you have a favorite RPG class or archetype, and why do you think you're so drawn to them? Do you roll a healer time and time again because you prefer a support role, or would you rather be leading the team, axe-deep in goblin gore? As always, share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Korean MMO Black Desert Might Just Have the Best Character Customization Ever

Black Desert CBT2 Customization
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The team behind upcoming Korean MMO Black Desert have already offered a lot of material for fans and followers to drool over, but their latest tidbit will be like catnip for anyone with an eye on avatar customization.

Up until now, Black Desert's main selling point has undoubtedly been its graphics. Both the characters and the world look so polished and realistic that its screenshots could easily be mistaken for renders from 3D software like DAZ or Poser (seriously). But yesterday, in advance of their second closed beta test phase, the developers of Black Desert released a new video to flaunt the game's unique character customization system. Unlike preset or slider-based customization techniques that currently dominate modern MMOs, Black Desert divides the face and body up onto very precise elements that can be adjusted directly and intuitively. Click here to see it in action.

If you're as intrigued as I am, you'll probably have to wait a while before you can play for yourself. Black Desert's second closed beta period starts on April 22nd but will only be available to players in Korea. The game is expected to be localized for North America after its Korean release, but that often takes a year or more to come together. Until then, you can learn more about Black Desert here.

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The Elder Scrolls Online is a Good MMO... But Not a Very Good Elder Scrolls Game

Elder Scrolls Online 10
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The very first thing that I will tell you about my time with The Elder Scrolls Online is how much I absolutely hated it during the beta. Playing it was like a chore -- gaming housework I had to do -- and I just wasn't having fun, full stop. The second thing I will tell you is that at some point, that changed. Since Head-Start access opened last week, I've spent every day eagerly anticipating the moment when my work is done and I'm free to play more. It's hard to pin down exactly why I've done a complete 180, but I think it has something to do with adjusting my expectations.

Writing about an MMO of this scope and scale at launch is difficult, so I will be breaking my coverage up. Progress in ESO feels slower than most MMOs I've played recently (Full disclosure, I'm playing ESO with a review code provided by the developer on request) and after a week of playing for about 2-5 hours a night on my main character I've only just hit level 10. So this week I'm going to be focussing on first impressions, and addressing the question that's on everyone's lips: How good an Elder Scrolls game is The Elder Scrolls Online?

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New on Steam: Goat Simulator, the Grand Theft Auto of Livestock Games (No Fooling - Watch!)

 
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Why. Why does this game exist? It's certainly worth asking, especially if you don't quite get the appeal of  the already infamous Goat Simulator, a game which aims to simulate the mundane daily life of an average, run-of-the-mill goat. 

Spoiler: I am lying. There is absolutely nothing mundane about it.

Much like Octodad, the experience of playing Goat Simulator is hard to convey through text. Thankfully I streamed this bizarre little game with my friends Austin Walker and Jack de Quidt over the weekend, and I've cut some of the best moments down into a video that's easily worth a thousand words and embedded it above.

But that still leaves us with "why"...

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Sandbox Summit: Don't Miss The Latest and Greatest Ideas in Educational Gaming (Even if You're Not There in Person)

Sandbox Summit
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

If you're into that sweet spot where gaming and education intersect, the hashtag to watch right now is #sandboxsummit14. There you'll be able to see live reactions to talks and workshops being conducted at MIT's Sandbox Summit, an annual get together for educators and scholastically-minded developers alike. The event runs today and tomorrow, and  just because you're not there in person doesn't mean you can't pick up a thing or two from afar (thanks to social networking and streaming video.)

In this case "gaming" isn't limited to video games, either. One of the most interesting topics so far (if Twitter is any indication) has been The World Peace Game, a massive tabletop game in which an entire class can wage war and peace, and gain a better grasp of the effects of both. 

You'll eventually be able to view videos of this year's talks on the Sandbox Summit website, but until then keep your eyes on Twitter, and check out recorded talks from the 2013 summit here.

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Iris Rants: Animal Crossing: New Leaf Is Not a Poster Child for Diversity in Gaming

Animal Crossing New Leaf Dr Shrunk
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

One of the showstopping talks at GDC yesterday came from two of the developers behind Animal Crossing: New Leaf. At their panel "How to Turn a New Leaf at the Animal Crossing," project leader Aya Kyogoku and producer Katsuya Eguchi spoke at length about how they tried to make their game as appealing as possible to its audience. Both agreed that a key part of New Leaf's success was diversity. Diversity of gender and life experiences of the developers played a key role, they said, because the Animal Crossing series' audience is itself very diverse.

There were a lot of particularly positive and encouraging statements made about the importance of including female developers in this, which helped make the panel a darling on Twitter and across various gaming news sites. There's just one problem: New Leaf is not a very diverse game.

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