Video Games

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cult Stars

New Documentary Shows the Impact of Indie Video Games

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Fri, Aug 8, 2014 at 3:36 AM
  • Common Dreams

Stephanie Beth is a high school teacher in Christchurch, New Zealand who focuses on media studies. She's also a documentary filmmaker who recently produced and directed Us and the Game Industry. The film, which chronicles the work of a handful of independent-minded video game developers, opens at Arena Cinema in Hollywood today for a weeklong run. 

Beth doesn't play games, but her son does. That situation she says something is "not atypical to any parent." Through her son, the filmmaker noticed something that caught her attention. "I suddenly saw this astonishing energy of culture shifting away from one medium, or some mediums, to another," she says. With a keen interest in working on a project that incorporated "culture, science and art" and spare time, Beth went to work on the documentary. Filming took place between 2009 and 2012. Most of the participants are based in the United States, although a couple worked in Copenhagen, Denmark.

From first-person shooters played on living room consoles to mobile phone apps, video games have evolved into a massive industry that has a little something for everybody. They are no longer about kids and teens hanging around an arcade or even busting through Super Mario Bros. at a sleepover. There are games for children and adults. You can play by yourself or with strangers somewhere else in the world. Some are played to simply pass time while others are meant to test your physical endurance. You can play games for the action or the art or the narrative.

Beth got to witness part of this story. When she began research for the documentary, the game industry was stuck in a rut. "It wasn't growing," she says. "There were long established traditions, whether for role-playing or for first-person shooter." She learned, though, that there were people trying to break new ground in the medium. Ultimately, those were the people she followed.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Cosplayers pose for photos at Voltage's Anime Expo booth. - LIZ OHANESIAN
  • Liz Ohanesian
  • Cosplayers pose for photos at Voltage's Anime Expo booth.

Tucked inside the exhibit hall at Anime Expo was a small, pink booth. Inside, there were two cosplayers standing under soft lighting as people queued up to take photos with them. The guy with the fox ears and long, blonde hair is supposed to be Miyabi, a lead character in the new romance app, Enchanted in the Moonlight.

Games like this — more choose-your-own adventure story than conventional video game — have a history of popularity in Japan. Voltage, the company behind Enchanted in the Moonlight, has released 50 titles in Japanese and has 22 million users in its home country. The company hasn't been in the U.S. for very long — its San Francisco office opened in 2012 — but it's steadily increasing its presence here, and has 18 U.S. titles under its belt. This past weekend marked the company's first appearance at Anime Expo, a destination for all sorts of media emanating from Japan.

Inside the booth, a Voltage rep talks me through the demo for Enchanted in the Moonlight. We're using an iPad. Every tap on the screen moves the story forward. Dialogue pops up under scenes that are drawn in a way that resembles manga and anime. Every now and then, a multiple choice question appears. I have to select the protagonist's reaction.

When I start playing the app, the story is still in progress. I point to a sad looking man on the screen. "So, that's the nice guy who likes the girl, but she chose the jerk instead?" I ask the rep. He nods. The romantic lead, Miyabi, is a real piece of work. He's egotistical and possessive. I decide that I hate him and realize that I'm getting sucked into this world. I ask the rep if I can give this story a horrible ending. He says yes. I like this game even more. I start playing it on my iPhone when I get home from the convention that evening.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

JJ Villard at work at Hollywood animation studio Titmouse - PHOTO BY RYAN ORANGE
  • Photo by Ryan Orange
  • JJ Villard at work at Hollywood animation studio Titmouse

JJ Villard just lived through a stretch of weeks that felt like a single day. Near the end of production for his forthcoming cartoon series, King Star King, the budget grew tight. The five-person team that provided layouts was gone, although there was one more episode to go. Villard had to do the job himself. He worked from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, churning out one drawing after the next.

Now, in mid-April, Villard is sitting in his office at Hollywood animation studio Titmouse, going through the work that he somehow turned in on time. There's the eponymous King Star King with his chest exploding. Villard pulls up another drawing as he describes the scene: "He's drinking, smoking aliens and snorting worms and then - boom! - all the eyes come out of the clouds."

He proclaims, "The end animation looks beautiful!"

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Jessica Chobot hosts Nerdist News and wrote the video game Daylight. - SHANNON COTTRELL
  • Shannon Cottrell
  • Jessica Chobot hosts Nerdist News and wrote the video game Daylight.

Belinda Van Sickle had been working in the video game industry for nine years when she headed up to San Francisco for the second Women in Games International conference back in 2006. She sat in a room with 100 people, most of whom were female, and realized that she didn't know anyone.

Van Sickle had spent years going to conferences, including large-scale ones like E3 in Los Angeles, and knew she would run into familiar faces. But after almost a decade in the industry, she didn't know many other women who worked in video games. "I realized that being a woman is an isolating thing in the game industry, especially on the developer side," she says. "Isolation is not a way to build a career."

Van Sickle, who began her career at Activision and had just started her own marketing company, GameDocs, began working with WIGI to build a community for women in the industry. She started out with a LinkedIn group, whose membership swelled in a matter of months. That led to successful mixers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Seattle and Sydney. Soon, they were doing events at E3. By 2008, the group had incorporated. Today, Van Sickle is the President and CEO of WIGI, a group that helps advance the careers of women in the games industry. 

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Scott Stephan and Alexa Kim created Anamnesis for a graduate course at USC. - SHANNON COTTRELL
  • Shannon Cottrell
  • Scott Stephan and Alexa Kim created Anamnesis for a graduate course at USC.

In Anamnesis, you are a FEMA agent in Los Angeles. The year is 2020 and a pandemic has swept the city, forcing survivors to move into quarantine zones. You are the person who helped them relocate. Now, you are searching one of these buildings to find out why two of these people have disappeared.

The game, which is part of IndieCade's exhibition at E3, utilizes the emerging gaming platform Oculus Rift. With the Rift, players can immerse themselves into the world, virtual reality style. In the case of Anamnesis, wearing the Rift headset will allow you to see the memories of the former inhabitants of the apartments you will explore. Without the Rift, you will look at the game strictly from the perspective of the FEMA agent. You'll need to explore the building from those different points of view in order to uncover, and maybe solve, a mystery. 

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Outside of EightyTwo, adjacent to Little Tokyo and in the heart of the Arts District. - EIGHTYTWO
  • EightyTwo
  • Outside of EightyTwo, adjacent to Little Tokyo and in the heart of the Arts District.

Scott Davids and Noah Sutcliffe have been friends since they were in the first grade. When Sutcliffe's family moved from Pasadena to Washington, D.C. for a year, young Davids from Highland Park came out to visit with a briefcase of Nintendo video games. So, it didn't seem so far-fetched that now in their early 30s, they are opening a classic arcade games bar, EightyTwo, together in Downtown L.A.

Is your inner child jealous? Well, you should be.

Nestled in the the heart of the Arts District, around the corner from newer institutions like Wurstküche and The Pie Hole, is a spacious and empty one-story building with a concrete parking lot. The walls outside are adorned with vibrant graffiti art from local artists -- something that was already there before they bought the building. Although it's still a work in progress, Kevin Costner's words echo: "If you build it, they will come." The two are in the middle of renovating the space with Sci-Arc architect Darin Johnstone and plan on opening it in Jan. 2014.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cult Stars

What's It Like to Play Batman and the Joker in a Video Game?

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Tue, Oct 22, 2013 at 4:00 AM


In the realm of heroes and villains, there are few as famous as Batman and the Joker. For decades, the nemeses have been meeting up on comic book pages, on screens big and small, in live-action and animated form. A host of actors have stepped into their roles, each one bringing a new dimension to the characters.

Now it's time for Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker to have their shot. Smith voices Batman while Baker handles Joker in the video game Batman: Arkham Origins, set for release on October 25.

Smith and Baker are voice actors. Smith has lent his voice to major characters in multiple Assassin's Creed and Resident Evil games. Baker has voiced Snow Villiers, one of the playable characters in Final Fantasy XIII, amongst numerous other roles. They've done plenty of work in animation too, but it's in the gamer realm where they've made their marks.

Both actors note that acting for video games isn't all that different from working on cartoons. You work in a booth. You perform into microphones. Sometimes, there's a camera picking up facial expressions and mouth movements for the animation team's references. What's different is how the performances unfold. They're working on game levels, one by one. "We're not telling a story in an hour-and-a-half," says Baker. "We're telling it in ten to twelve hours that you are immersed in."

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Playing in Uncle Scrooge's gold depository on opening night of "Entertainment System" at iam8bit. - SHANNON COTTRELL
  • Shannon Cottrell
  • Playing in Uncle Scrooge's gold depository on opening night of "Entertainment System" at iam8bit.
See also:

*Entertainment System at iam8bit (Pics)

Were you the type of kid who raced home from school to catch DuckTales? Did you have the theme song memorized? Did you spend hours playing the video game? Then maybe you should head down to iam8bit's Echo Park headquarters and go for a swim through Scrooge McDuck's pool of money.

For "Entertainment System," the latest retro-gaming themed art show from iam8bit, the group created a real life representation of the vault where Uncle Scrooge would dive head first into a sea of coins. "We are huge fans of the DuckTales game," says Noah Lane, the senior project coordinator at iam8bit, referencing the 1989 adventure game based on the series. "We've been researching and working on it for months."

The Echo Park firm worked closely with Capcom to bring the vault to life. Capcom, the video game company responsible for a slew of hit games, was behind the original DuckTales video game and recently announced DuckTales: Remastered. The new version of the old game will be available for multiple systems later this summer.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

Nerdy in LA

E3 2013: The Clash of the Consoles

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Fri, Jun 14, 2013 at 1:07 PM

  • Titanfall
This year's E3 was as big and bombastic as ever. A giant, 18-foot robot from EA's (Electronic Arts) upcoming Titanfall stands ominously in the lobby; Activision erected a semi-circle of giant, trailer-spewing screens around an open forum, welcoming the masses into its fold like the loving arms of St. Paul's Cathedral; Microsoft corralled actual zombies to moan and groan in a small corner dystopia to promote the undead slaughter-fest Dead Rising 3; and more media outlets than even last year broadcasted and podcasted live from the convention floor.

You can almost smell half a year's worth of marketing budgets in the air. But what really stands out this year is how high the walls are. The sides of booths at E3 have always crept skyward, but in years past, from an elevated vantage, you could at least gaze over the entire floor. Now, the steel-frames adorned with expansive sheets of plastic stretch nearly to the ceiling, blocking any trace of other exhibitors. They make it feel less like a gaming community (an illusion that my inner child should perhaps have released decades ago) and more like isolated pods of explosive glee.

Nevertheless, video game professionals -- and those who managed to finagle a badge out of a video game professional -- soak in all the bright lights, hyper-kinetic screens, booming tones, circus-like barkers, and busty seasonal models that characterize the annual event.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

The calm after the Stream-A-Thon - LIZ OHANESIAN
  • Liz Ohanesian
  • The calm after the Stream-A-Thon
See also:

*Family Fun Arcade Prepares to Close After Four Decades

*10 Best Arcades in L.A.

At 11 a.m. on Sunday morning, the Granada Hills shopping center that is home to Family Fun Arcade was so full that guys in neon raincoats were directing traffic. But the crowd wasn't here for gaming action -- they were ready to attend church services. The arcade itself was closed, despite the fact that the Arcade Relief Stream-A-Thon, a video game marathon intended to raise money for FFA owner Ralph Sehnert's medical bills, was set to go on for another hour. Posted on the locked door were the arcade's regular hours and a recent L.A. Weekly article about the FFA's impending closure.

Two hours later, I returned, this time with an old friend. We were set on making one final, small offering of quarters to the arcade gods at the video game haven of our youth. Still, the venue was closed. A couple people were waiting outside as well. One guy tells us that the Stream-A-Thon was shut down sometime in the middle of the night. He was there, he said, and it was crowded.

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