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Jack Gardner

Joystiq Is No More

By Jack Gardner, in Gaming News,

After a rumblings of a closure were reported by Re/code, rumors began circulating earlier this week, Joystiq has confirmed that AOL will be shutting them down. The site will continue to publish content until next Tuesday.
 
For those of you who might be wondering why, the word on the street is that AOL is going through some restructuring and Joystiq wasn't pulling in as much money as its parent company desired. Perhaps its a sensible business move in a world where half of the traffic to most video game websites uses Ad Block software (effectively cutting all revenue earned in half). Maybe it makes sense to someone in a corporate meeting who can only see the numbers. To them, its a good move to shut down Joystiq after eleven years covering the industry.
 
Eleven years.
 
Eleven years is a life-age in the world of video game websites. Most seem to go under in less than five years. To those of us who followed Joystiq's work and labored in the trenches alongside them, Joystiq was an institution. It just was. It seems impossible that when I wake up on Wednesday morning, it will be over and gone.
 
No more news coverage from Alexander Sliwinski. No more reviews appearing from Susan Arendt. No more goofy bits of everything written by Ludwig Kietzmann. No more from any of the talented people who worked on building Joystiq: Xav de Matos, Richard Mitchell, Jess Conditt, Sinan Kubba, Danny Cowan, Mike Suszek, Earnest Cavalli, Sam Prell, Thomas Schulenberg, or Anthony John Agnello.
 
These people did great work, a lot of great work. I hope we'll see them land on their feet, but for now, I think it is okay to be sad. Next Tuesday, the video game community will witness the passing of something extraordinary. 
 
After eleven years, Joystiq is closing shop.  

Jack Gardner
The Nintendo Creators Program will officially launch May 27, but until then a beta version of the program will be available. YouTubers who wish to participate will need a Google and Paypal account. 
 
So, what exactly does signing up do for YouTube producers?
 
Participants in the program may submit individual videos to Nintendo and receive 60% of ad revenue, while Nintendo pockets the remainder. Alternatively, participants can up their cut, but they'll have to have a channel dedicated to Nintendo content, in which case they'll receive 70% of ad revenue. Nintendo notes in its registration rules that these percentages may change arbitrarily. 
 
Payments will be sent via Paypal two months after monthly views are recorded. 
 
This is certainly a step in the right direction after Nintendo started taking all revenue from YouTube videos in which their IP appeared in February 2013. However, compared with competitors like Microsoft, this new program still represents a burdensome system that profits off of the passion of the Nintendo fanbase. It will be interesting to see how this program evolves from now until May 27. 

Jack Gardner
The developer of League of Legends has released the first album of official game music consisting of fifteen tracks both new and old. This is a real treat for people who are enamored with the login music or the music videos that Riot Games creates from time to time.  
 
 
The track list is as follows:
Demacia Rising Tidecaller Tiny Masterpiece Of Evil The Curse Of The Sad Mummy Quinn And Valor Braum Tales Of The Rift Lulu And Shaco's Quirky Encounter Freljord Rise Of The Ascended Daylight's End Challengers Get Jinxed Super Galaxy Rumble Reborn  
If you are interested, Riot is currently offering the album free of charge, but will also be releasing it through Google Play, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube. 

Jack Gardner
Thanks to Viz Media, Legend of Zelda fans will be able to experience this comic from 1993 once again without paying around $120 on Ebay. One could say that Viz has made a real... link to the past. 
 
The adaptation of the classic SNES title features artwork by Shotaro Ishinomori, a prolific manga artist best known for essentially inventing the transforming super hero genre. Basically anything that remotely resembles Power Rangers exists because of this guy. The Nintendo Power comic follows the same general storyline as the video game, but adds more characters and twists in the plot. Also, Link talks.
 
The republished Nintendo Power run will be available May 5 through Viz Media.  
 
If anyone is intrigued by this, it is worth pointing out that Viz has also published ten other manga adaptations of Legend of Zelda games by Akira Himekawa including: Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Phantom Hourglass, Four Swords Adventures, and a different version of A Link to the Past.

Jack Gardner
Mike Laidlaw, creative director of the Dragon Age series, took to Twitter today to announce that the songs sung by the tavern bard in Dragon Age: Inquisition will be free to download from now until February 9. 
 
 
The release of the tavern songs comes after portions of the Dragon Age community called foul when they weren't included on the game's official soundtrack. Downloading before February 9, will net all ten tavern songs accompanied by their sheet music. Following February 9, the songs will be made available on digital platforms.
 
You can find additional information and download the song bundle here. 
 
Update: BioWare has removed the songs from their website as free downloads. The pages now read "404 Not Found - The page you requested could not be found; it's been burnt to ashes by a dragon."

Jack Gardner
Over the weekend, Gearbox Software showed the work they've done revamping the beloved strategy RTS titles Homeworld (1999) and Homeworld 2 (2003) at PAX South. They also announced that the collection will release for PC on February 25.
 
 
The remastered games were crafted using their original code with some modern refinements and new in-game assets. The folks at Gearbox consulted with some of the developers who worked on Homeworld and Homeworld 2, as well as some of the most hardcore fans in the ongoing communities the games inspired. Out of reverence, and in a nod of appreciation toward the gaming purists, the unremastered version of both titles are included in the collection for those who want to hew completely to the original experience.
 
Additionally, anyone who purchases the collection will gain access to the Homeworld Remastered Steam Multiplayer Beta. This competitive multiplayer beta combines the two original competitive modes into one experience for players. All races, maps, and game modes have been effectively joined together. 
 
“Homeworld is among the greatest strategy games in history, and we’re very proud of the work our team has put into bringing this exceptional series to modern PCs,” said Brian Martel, chief creative officer at Gearbox. “We received a lot of great feedback from the passionate Homeworld fan community, and we hope to deliver a game they – and new fans from around the world – can get lost in for countless hours to come.”
 
Oh, but that's not all! Gearbox has partnered with Blackbird Interactive to create an entirely new Homeworld game. Blackbird was founded by Rob Cunningham and Aaron Kambeitz, both of whom helped develop Homeworld. The new game is titled Homeworld Shipbreakers and will serve as a prequel to the first Homeworld.
 
"It is a very special and rare thing to see a project so close to your heart not only get re-released, but remastered with such loving care and attention,” said Rob Cunningham, co-founder of Homeworld developer Relic Entertainment and its original art director. “That fact alone is a wonderful privilege for me, but it is beyond rare to be working on an all-new entry as well! I have been sucked into a bubbling time-vortex hot tub of Homeworld – and I love it." 
 
So, we'll be seeing Homeworld a lot sooner than we expected, we'll be getting streamlined multiplayer, there is more Homeworld on the way, and basically everything is awesome. 

Jack Gardner
Approaching race in video games can be difficult. It's not something that a lot of people enjoy thinking about; and many find comfort in pretending that race isn’t an issue in gaming. However, the reality is that video games have problems when it comes to racial diversity. Actually, let me rephrase that: Video game developers, the people who make the games, have problems when it comes to making their games racially diverse. 
 
This isn’t something new, it’s a truth that’s been around for a long, long time. The industry as a whole has made steps toward a future where racial diversity in our video games might no longer be problematic, but there are still miles left to go before we’re remotely close to that point. And I’m not just talking about including different races in video games; even competently portraying minorities without relying on harmful and negative stereotypes is something with which the industry regularly struggles.
 
When it comes to race, many game developers are ill-equipped to deal with the issues of depicting minority groups. Even enormously talented and well-funded writing teams can have difficulty tackling racial issues in their games. Less skilled devs will rely on stereotypes as an easy way out of doing more work. I don’t think most negative portrayals of race in video games come from a place of malice or hatred. Instead, I think they come from a place of ignorance. And nothing demonstrates that ignorance and lack of thought better than Firewater Cowboy Chase.
 
 
I brought up the topic of race in video games today for two reasons. First, it has been bouncing around in my head for a while. Second, I received a press release for Firewater Cowboy Chase this morning, a mobile game that perfectly exhibits the issues at play.
 
The game itself seems fairly innocuous. After all, it’s just another endless runner with a Wild West theme, right? However, if you pay much attention to that trailer you’ll realize that there are a lot more going on than a few minutes of endless running and microtransactions. The set up for the runner is that you, a cowboy, have stolen alcohol from a Native American tribe and they are chasing you down. Let’s just break down that awful premise.
 
You’ll notice a group of Native Americans chasing thieving cowboy in the trailer. They tail him while holding tomahawks and spears, clearly intending violence and possibly murder for stealing their alcohol. This plays into the bloodthirsty savage, one of the oldest stereotypes of Native American people. You can see it at play in the first works of American literature; when violent portrayals of Native Americans spawned popular works of both fiction and non-fiction called captivity narratives. The dawn of film also depicted indigenous people in a number of different stereotypical roles, including that of ruthless killer. The premise of Firewater Cowboy draws on centuries of disempowerment and misrepresentation to create the ever-looming threat nipping at the player’s heels.
 
Even the use of the word “Indian” in the trailer is a point of insensitivity. There has been an ongoing debate since the 1970s regarding the proper way to address the indigenous communities in North America and, at least as far as I can tell, the two most widely accepted are “Native American” and “indigenous peoples.” This might seem like a nitpick, but calling groups of people by their preferred wording is important. It is a sign of respect and this mobile game throws that completely out the window.
 
Arguably the worst part about Firewater Cowboy Chase’s setup is the reliance on the stereotype of Native Americans as alcoholics. For a good overview of the issue, âpihtawikosisân succinctly covers several different manifestations of the stereotype, the myths that people still believe, and its effects on the indigenous peoples of Canada. The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that, “more Native American people die of alcohol-related causes than do any other ethnic group in the United States.” Clearly, Firewater Cowboy Chase isn’t out to tackle issues like this, however in its disinterested state it unwittingly perpetuates a harmful stereotype that has been around for centuries. What else could you think about a game that implies a group of Native Americans would CHASE A MAN FOREVER BECAUSE HE STOLE THEIR BOOZE? When you look at it in that light, the scenario being painted says something pretty gross, doesn’t it?
 
I mean, really? Not one of the developers working for Double Smith looked at Firewater Cowboy Chase and thought those aspects might be problematic? I am almost positive that this game is the result of mindlessly creating a mobile app game. This was a game born out of laziness, taking shortcuts to call upon established stereotypes for the scenario without thinking about the implications of those stereotypes. A lot of video games exist in a similar space to Firewater Cowboy Chase, made by similar people who think that they are “just making a game” and don’t think about what their game might be saying. As creators, there is a responsibility there to think about what their work says to players. When dealing with race in video games, in any form of media really, there is an obligation to depict humanity. Opting to forgo that obligation in favor of hollow and damaging stereotypes is irresponsible and awful when you get down to the heart of it.
 
So, this is where we are as an industry. Firewater Cowboy Chase came out today. Think about that. A game with the central conceit of a man endlessly running away from a group of Native Americans who want to kill him for stealing their alcohol was a commercial release in 2015. And that is really just sad. 

Jack Gardner
AER tells the story of Auk, a shape-shifting girl who can transform into a bird. Her ability to become a bird will prove incredibly helpful as players explore her fractured world of floating islands.
 
As Auk, players will embark on a journey to discover her people's "Memories of the Past." These memories are scattered far and wide, in remote areas that only Auk can find. During this journey, players will encounter other shape-shifters, find the ruins of old gods, and vanquish menacing shadow creatures.
 
AER makes use of a colorful, low-poly aesthetic that serves to emphasize the game's quiet demeanor. You can see more screenshots on the Extra Life Facebook page.
 
AER will be coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and Linux in 2016.

Jack Gardner
The second episode of the Westerosi adventure game, titled The Lost Lords, will be hitting the first week of February. The release will be staggered from February 3-5. 
 
February 3: PS3, PS4, PC
 
February 4: Xbox 360, Xbox One
 
February 5: Android, iOS
 
 
Players will control the heirs of House Forrester as they try to keep the noble house and the lands they protect safe from the wolves at their gates and abroad. 

Jack Gardner
If you are looking for a way to flex your creative muscles and possibly make this year's Halloween costume, Nintendo has announced a crafty contest in honor of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D. Three winners will walk away with a New Nintendo 3DS XL and a copy of Majora's Mask 3D. 
 
Fittingly, the contest tasks participants with creating their very own mask. It doesn't have to look like one of the masks from the video game, it just has to be inspired by the game itself. Those that wish to enter the contest must submit pictures of their creation via Twitter from January 23 through January 25 with the hashtags #MyMajorasMask and #ContestEntry. Three winners will be chosen during that time period.
 
Only residents of the United States and Canada (excluding Quebec for some reason) and who are over the age of 13 qualify for this challenge.
Entries will be judged based on the following criteria:
 
Your entry is, in fact, a mask
  The mask's demonstration of your Legend of Zelda enthusiasm
  How well the mask represents Majora's Mask 3D
  The quality of your mask
  Winners will be contacted on or around January 26.

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