No Skin Thick Enough: Don't Miss This Eye-Opening Article About Online Harassment in Gaming

No Skin thick Enough
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

An interesting piece about gender and harassment in the gaming industry was posted in Polygon's opinion section today. Written by game developer Brianna Wu, the piece cuts right to the quick with a series of case studies from other women in the industry, each one debunking a specific myth about online harassment. If you've ever caught yourself saying "everyone gets harassed online" or "you just need to grow a thicker skin," please carve a few minutes out of your day to read it. 

It's a phenomenal piece, but one quote included from games journalist Carolyn Petit really resonates:

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In the Least Surprising News of the Day, The Sims 4 Will Have Premium Memberships

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

Sims fans have caught sight of something alarming in a recent 20-minute Sims 4 gameplay demo posted to the series' official YouTube channel. A banner advertising "The Sims 4 Premium" popped on screen while the hosts were en-route to check out community content sharing features, promising discounts, early access, and exclusive items. The comparison is being made to the premium memberships offered for the Battlefield series, in essence a subscription fee that provides a good deal for players who plan to buy all or nearly all of the DLC content released -- and a good deal for EA if subscribers who planned to buy decide to abstain. 

But when it comes to this particular community and this particular franchise, I don't think the issue is quite that simple...

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The SIM-ple Life: Here's Why I'm Looking Forward to Losing Everything in the Transition to The Sims 4

Sims 4 CAS Demo  (11)
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Fans of any series are surely familiar with the excitement leading up to the release of a new installment, and likewise the concern that somehow, at some point, the developers will mess it up. Maybe it won't be as good as the previous games. Or maybe it will be a million times better. It's an emotional push-and-pull that many Sims fans are experiencing right now, but with an added layer almost unique to them.

Between the base game, the expansions, the stuff packs, the store content, the mods, and of course the sim lives created, every game in the series can be a tremendous investment of both time and money. And then the new game comes out, and you're back at square one. Even though it is a brand new game, even though the older game doesn't go anywhere, it still feels like (and is most often described as) a loss. It's a huge mental hurdle for many players to get over, and one that I personally struggled with when The Sims 3 came out back in 2009.

But this time around, I'm not. I'm actually, strangely enough, looking forward to losing it all. Here's why:

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People Paying $200 Million a Year to Live Kim Kardashian's Virtual Life -- Just Wait Until an Oculus Rift Version Hits

Kim Kardashian Mobile Game 200 million

An analyst estimates people are will pay $200 million a year to live Kim Kardashian's life in a mobile game, and I didn't believe that figure at first, but App Annie confirms that "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" is a top grossing game across the world, currently among the top five grossing apps in 46 countries.

What are people paying for? Stuff like this:

While the game is free to play, the goal is to get users hooked on in-app purchases such as clothing or a burst of energy needed for traipsing through Hollywood. Users can spend as much as $99.99 for 175,000 virtual dollars. A trip to Beverly Hills costs 4 game “dollars,” while 400 will buy a necklace. Kardashian’s voice guides the uninitiated through casting calls and parties, while users dodge surly tweets from rivals.

Because mobile games are relatively cheap to develop ($1-3 million is typical), a lot of that forecast $200 million is going to be pure profit for the developer and Ms. Kardashian. So expect many more virtual celebrity experiences like this in the future. Expect them to get even more immersive:

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Assassin's Creed is a Franchise Built on More Than Just Violence (But You'd Never Know it From This Trailer)

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

Earlier today Chris Plante shared his thoughts on the latest trailers for Assassin's Creed Unity over on Polygon, and if you're an avid gamer his post should give you a lot to think about. Obviously AC fans aren't strangers to gorey gameplay, but it feels like Ubisoft's marketing material is trying to take it to a new level, and Plante's not interested. Frankly, neither am I. He writes:

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Must Read: The Frustratingly Indistinct World of Gaming With Color Blindness

IGN Gaming with Color Blindness Super Puzzle FighterJanine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

There's a new article on IGN today about the experience of being a color blind gamer, and I'd say it's a must-read if only for the valuable perspective it will offer. In addition to providing some truly illuminating visual aids like the screenshot comparison on the left, the article also touches on the many ways that developers are addressing (or failing to address) accessibility for the considerable number of color blind players out there.

For example:

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Here's Your Regular Reminder That Skywind Might be the Most Amazing Mod Ever

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

We're long overdue for another chat about Skywind, the ridicilously ambitious modding project that aims to import the entire world of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind into the series' most recent (single-player) incarnation, Skyrim

The Skywind team have begun releasing trailers for their massive project monthly, teasing everything from armor models to environments (like the Ashlands) and even the soundtrack. Unfortunately due to the scale of the mod it's hard to say when (of if) we'll ever be able to get our hands on it, but either way these haunting trailers provide a glimpse into a more updated version of a world that so many gamers hold dear.

Watch all of the Skywind trailers for yourself on YouTube, or check out the TES Renewal Project for the latest news on Skywind, as well as its sister mods Morroblivion and Skyblivion.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Unclear: My First Impressions of The Sims 4 Create-a-Sim Demo

Sims 4 CAS Demo  (7)
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

On Tuesday, many members of The Sims 3 community were invited to test out The Sims 4 Create-a-Sim Demo on EA's Origin distribution platform, ahead of the demo's public release later this summer. I was lucky enough to be among them, so I spent the better part of yesterday evening pushing, pulling, pinching and tweaking my way through the very familiar and simultaneously very alien systems. 

So how was it? There were lots of things I loved, a few things I hated, and a couple things I can't wait to learn more about as we approach The Sims 4's launch date. Until then, here are my thoughts on the Create-a-Sim demo:

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Update, Emily Short's Blood & Laurels: From Linden Limbo to New York Times Feature in Four Months

Blood and Laurels Linden Lab Emily Short

In March, interactive fiction pioneer's Emily Short's "Blood & Laurels", a passion project 15 years in the making, was in limbo at Linden Lab, which owns the AI-powered Versu Engine she created it with (as she told Iris then) -- but thanks to some negotiation with the company, in June the two sides agreed to collaborate on publication, and yesterday, the story was featured in The New York Times:

A more novel, even radical, form of digital storytelling with text arrived last month on the iPad in the form of Blood & Laurels by Emily Short, an author of interactive fiction... Blood & Laurels is interesting in its own right but even more so for the promise of what might come after it. Blood & Laurels was written with a software engine called Versu, designed by Ms. Short and Richard Evans, who worked on the artificial intelligence aspects of notable games like Black & White and The Sims 3.

(Evans developed Versu with Emily at Linden Lab.) Here's what the Times' Chris Sullentrop says what it's capable of doing:

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Upcoming MMO-Flavored Sandbox Survival Game No Man's Sky Sorta Like Minecraft Meets the Universe

No Man's Sky MMO

Memo to Iris: Let's keep keeping an eye on No Man's Sky, for in this upcoming, procedurally generated PC PS4 game, this happens:

No Man’s Sky spurns the conventional structures of pre-written narratives, set-piece action sequences, and discrete levels. There are no quests in this game. You don’t go planet-hopping to find a damsel or a merchant in distress and then fetch them three healing salves and four wolf pelts of varying colors. In fact, at the outset, you can’t hop very far at all. Each player is handed only the bare necessities for survival, dropped onto a planet on the rim of a galaxy, and left to his or her own devices. A basic life pod will putter you up to the nearest space station where you can begin to figure out how to get such devices, upgrade them, and do something useful or interesting with your life. Most people will start by either mining resources or trying their luck as a bounty hunter or freight security guard. What career paths lie beyond those basic professions is part of the exploration you’ll have to do.

So pretty much Minecraft meets the known, explorable universe. Speaking of which, there's still some contention whether this game qualifies as an MMO, or just MMO-like -- here's why:

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