It's Critical to be Critical, Whether You Like This Hyper-Violent Game Trailer or Not

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

Yesterday, a developer released a trailer for a game they're working on. That's not news. It's a very violent game. That's not news either. What is news is just how negative its reception has been among gamers and games writers; within hours, op-eds were springing up about how repulsive, tacky, and frankly pathetic the trailer for the game (bluntly and blandly named Hatred) seems. Of course the trailer has spread like wildfire as a result, and on YouTube it still has more "dislikes" than "likes".

There's a lot of grossness to deal with when you're talking about Hatred. It claims to be a response to the trend towards "political correctness" in games. Its developers may hold some very disturbing political beliefs. It depicts a mass-shooting days after Anita Sarkeesian and the school hosting an event for her were threatened with one. But if nothing else, the responses to all of that grossness have been very insightful and well worth reading -- especially if, like me, you've ever tried to reconcile your enjoyment of some violent video games with your utter distaste for others.

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Return of the Deep Sea Dad: Octodad's Free DLC Doesn't Disappoint

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

As much as I enjoyed Octodad: Dadliest Catch when it first came out last February, I didn't expect to be anticipating its free DLC pack as much as I was 8 months later. I thought the game's charm and the glee I felt when I played it would fade over time as these things often do.

But it didn't.

I'd been awaiting the promised free DLC for months, and when it was finally released this week I leapt at the chance to play it. In short it does exactly what the best parts of Octodad did, placing the player and the titular cephalopatriarch in everyday scenarios and essentially "letting the magic happen". Take the screenshot above for instance, shared by @mattshea369 on Twitter. That patient sure did not start out wedged in a hospital vending machine, and yet here we are. If that's not enough to demonstrate what the Octodad DLC is all about, take a look at this stream I did on Tuesday:

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Lenna's Inception: Classic Gaming Style With a Modern Gaming Twist

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

If you're into indie/alt games these days then you're probably already aware of itch.io, a streamlined indie marketplace that makes it ultra-easy for developers to deliver their games to customers. Itch.io has become host to a boatload of interesting games in the past year -- some paid, many free -- and deserves some serious coverage.

It's with that in mind that I'll be reaching into my own itch.io library much more often here on NWN, starting today with a retro-inspired story of a teacher's revenge: Lenna's Inception.

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter May Be The Most Gorgeous Game of 2014

Vanishing of Ethan carter PC Gamer gallery
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is one of the most gorgeous games I've seen in my entire life, and PC Gamer has the massive, high-resolution screenshots to prove it. Just take a look. While screenshotter James Snook uprezzed the game and applied a 3rd party visual effects mod, in this case that's almost excessive. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter doesn't need either of those things to look utterly stunning.

I've already watched The Vanishing of Ethan Carter played from start to finish. I know the characters, I know the locations, I know the story, I know the twists... So why do I still feel compelled to play it all again for myself?

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Get Ready for Halloween by Looking at These Gruesome NBA 2K15 Face Scanning Errors

Operation Sports NBA 2K15 Face Scan
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

While face scanning technology may be gaining momentum as a tool for customizing player avatars, it seems like the process is still very far from foolproof. The face scanning in newly-released NBA 2K15 in particular has been getting a lot of attention for some of its more monstrous interpretations of player faces, some of which could absolutely pass for Halloween masks. 

Naturally people are having a very good time sharing the very best of the worst face scans. Operation Sports shared the haunting compilation above, while over on Gamespot you can find a video of how several of their staff members look through the NBA 2K15 lens. Sometimes it works well, sometimes... Less so. Even some of the better examples occasionally cover the avatars in strange bruises and smears, like the player spawned by Giant Bomb

So what's going wrong here? A few things...

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Simicide: Help Me Commit the Most Efficient Virtual Murder That The Sims 4 Has Ever Seen

Sims 4 Housekeeper 2
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

On October 1st a new patch launched for The Sims 4, and with it came the first of several planned free content additions to the game. Ghosts (which become playable sims when they join a household) along with a set of Star Wars themed costumes were added, with more long-lamented features like pools promised in similar patches in the future, rather than the paid expansions they were expected to come in. It's a pleasant surprise, and a welcome gesture of goodwill towards a community that often feels used.

Naturally I've wanted to take the newly added ghosts out for a spin. So did a friend of mine, who streamed her attempts to kill a sim version of herself so that she could become a super cool ghost. After catching on fire (and surviving) at some point her sim just spontaneously transformed into an urn full of ashes -- no drama, no tragedy, and no Reaper. She got what she wanted (to become a ghost member of her old household) but it was rather anti-climactic, as if the game was saying "You want this sim dead that badly? Fine."

So I want to do better. I want to write about ghosts in The Sims 4, but before that I want to devise the most efficient, foolproof, engine of sim death that I can. And I need your help to do it.

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Dear Tech Industry (and Beyond): Here's One Easy Trick to Avoid Making Yet Another Offensive Ad

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

Hot on the heels of ASUS' Twitter ad disaster and nearing the anniversary of the ultra-condescending Xbox One form email (which I prepared a free-to-use response for at the time), it seems like as good a time as any to share one simple truth with you all. Maybe you already know this (ASUS and Microsoft sure didn't) but it's surprisingly easy to avoid making an ad that will offend your customers.

There's a trick to it, and it's a trick that applies well beyond the realm of advertising to writing, art, and just about any creative field that could conceivably ever need to represent a person attached to an idea: All a creator has to do is ask themselves "why" (and care about the answer.) 

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Hey ASUS, I Fixed Your Incredibly Offensive Gamer Ad

ASUS Gamer Ad
ABOVE: ASUS' original, hastily-deleted sexist ad - see my new and improved version below!

ASUS posted a gem of sexist advertising on Twitter yesterday. Although they were pretty quick to delete it after a less than favorable reception, the internet seldom forgets. By the time they'd scrubbed their Tweet the gloriously bad ad (shown above) had already been saved to hard drives around the world. Including mine.

There are a lot of problems with this ad. The one that should hit you in the face immediately is that the "Hardcore Gamer" is male, and the "Casual Gamer" is female. In the context of gaming and general geekdom, the terms "hardcore" and "casual" are often used on clearly gendered lines. It's a tired old trope already, but it persists. I also have a hard time accepting the use of hardcore and casual to describe games themselves. The ad above defines The Sims as a casual game (and treats it like it's a game played in short bursts -- was this ad made by a fake gamer boy?) but I know people who are ten times more hardcore about The Sims than many fans of "true" "hardcore" games like CS:GO or DOTA 2 are. Any game can be hardcore or casual; it all depends on how you play it. 

Even if you're the most run-of-the-mill, advertisers-wet-dream male gamer around this ad should piss you off because yes, it's talking shit about you too. To ASUS, you're some bro who can't take care of his things, can't control his temper, and can't pry himself away from the glow of his monitor or hum of his console even for an instant. In short: This ad doesn't flatter anyone.

But hey, don't you worry your pretty little corporate head about this, ASUS. I've got your back. I made a few changes to your ill-conceived little ad, and I think they're all vast improvements...

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Worlds in Decline: When MMOs Slip Into Maintenance Mode

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

The slow decline of an MMO can bring about a lot of intense and complicated feelings for those who wiled away hours within its virtual walls. While Lord of the Rings Online still boasts a strong community and steady income, there's no denying that the games glory days have passed. According to Ian Williams, who recently wrote about the game for Paste, the popular Tolkien-based MMO is "teetering on the edge of maintenance mode, the point in an MMO’s life where the patches and new content slow to a trickle or stop completely." 

His article isn't solely devoted to where the developers/publishers went wrong, or where the fans have gone, or how it all could have been avoided. It touches on those things, but at some point Williams becomes more interested in celebrating what the game was and still is, and exploring the bittersweet sentiment that can come from playing a game for years, following its existence from peak to valley:

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80 Days: How Mobile Developers Can Make the Most of Their Art Assets

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

When I played stylish mobile globetrotting sim 80 Days back in August, I recognized immediately how clean and beautiful its artwork was. What I didn't realize at the time was how efficient and economical it is, too. It turns out that this bold, contrasting style actually serves the same purpose that a lot of modern pixel graphics do, but with a much more eye-catching end result. 

Over on Gamasutra, Joseph Humphrey (co-founder of 80 Days' developer inkle) shared his thoughts on why they chose the style they did, how it worked both for and against them at different points in development, and how other developers can find inspiration and follow suit. It's a fascinating read whether you're looking for ideas or just wanting to take a peek behind the dev curtain. For example, he writes regarding one of their artistic miscalculations:

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