Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nibris subsidiary Bloober Team emerges

Bloober Team, the subsidiary studio of Poland-based ´Sadness´ developer Nibris has finally launched their website, announcing three new games and dishing out information on their various in-house graphics engines.

For a start, Bloober Team claims to be an approved developer by both Nintendo and Sony, currently seeking Microsoft approval. The studio also claims to be developing four titles and has apparently developed two graphics engines.

´Last Flight´ (WiiWare); development status: demo ready
´Troopies series´ (Xbox360, WiiWare, PSP); development status: early stage of production
´Engineering an Empire: Egypt´ (DS, PSP, PC); development status: unknown
Undisclosed RPG project (Xbox360, WiiWare); development status: preproduction

´Cross Engine´ (Wii, PC, with Xbox360 and PSP support by the end of the year)
´Black Horse engine´ (DS)

No screenshots are available on the site. Instead, the studio shows three pieces of artwork for ´Last Flight´. Here is one of them:

Interestingly enough, the website seems to make no mention of parent studio Nibris, although some images are shared between the websites and Nibris links to Bloober as a "befriended studio".

While the site looks professional, it also contains some spelling mistakes and awkward use of English.

It seems also worthy of note that the studio appears to concentrate solely on digital distribution. It seems that they will not release any games on physical media.

I know some of have been waiting for my in-depth analysis of Nibris for some time. While I must apologize for the time it took me so far, it is coming along and will be published as soon my little son gives me some time off. I estimate that it should be done within the next four weeks.

Source: Bloober Team

Friday, April 17, 2009

Nintendo consoles no vehicle for mature games?

The high-profile DS title ´Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars´ has sold a mere 88.704 units in the US in March, prompting fears that Nintendo platforms simply are not the right vehicle for mature games. In the face of rave reviews for the game, analyst Eric Krangel found some very strong words regarding the poor sales figures.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is dying on the shelves. (...) So how did Take-Two flub a sure thing? Chinatown Wars was built for the wrong console. The title -- whose gameplay centers around drug dealing, cold-blooded murder, and sex -- is only available on the Nintendo DS, who's primary audience is children. Parents refused to let their kids play, and the adult DS audience just isn't that big.

Take-Two reps tell us in a phone call that they remain confident in the long-term success of Chinatown Wars, and they note March was difficult for all videogame publishers, with sales down 17% across the industry.

Chinatown Wars may yet find life down the road, but all in all a rare misstep from Take-Two. And the winner here might actually be Sony (SNE): The Chinatown Wars disaster will likely scare other publishers away from making new adult-themed games for the Nintendo DS. Some may redirect efforts towards Sony's PSP, which targets a somewhat older crowd.

In the story's comments, a GameFAQs moderator seems to accuse Krangel of bias and points out that "the highest profile game on the PSP this month sold only a mere 55,000 units. So it bombed even harder than Chinatown Wars."

To be sure, Eric Krangel is just as critical of other consoles. The same author recently called the PlayStation3 a "sinking ship" which is "flopping so badly".

So, purely objectively, are mature titles like ´Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars´ wasted on Nintendo platforms? Or will they deliver impressive sales figures in the long run?

I have argued that 2009 will become the crossroads for the Wii regarding mature games. By the end of this year, 20 survival horror games should be available for the platform, as well as the undisputably most violent videogame ever, ´MadWorld´. This game, alongside ´House of the Dead: Overkill´, is probably also the most stylish videogame to be released in a long time. There will be five titles in the ´Resident Evil´ series, two of which are exclusives. Sales figures for games like these will either pave the way for more such games or will turn developers of mature titles away from Nintendo for years to come.

While the quality of ´MadWorld´ and ´House of the Dead: Overkill´ is not questionable, the sales figures certainly are. These games sold 66.000 and 45.000 units in the USA in their first month, respectively, according to Gamasutra. Now, those are clearly very poor sales figures, albeit Sega claiming otherwise.

As a reminder, though, mature titles on Wii have sold well in the past. Apparently, ´Resident Evil 4 Wii edition´ and ´Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles´ have sold 1,5 and 1,25 million units, respectively. After all, Capcom recently announced a sequel to the latter.

´Red Steel´, ´Metroid Prime 3: Corruption´ and both parts of ´Call of Duty´ sold above a million and ´The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return´ just under. These are pretty decent sales. The newer titles do have a long way to go until they get anywhere near these figures, if they ever do.

EDIT ´GTA Chinatown Wars´ sold almost as much in its second month, proving to some analysts that mature titles on Nintendo platforms are simply long-sellers.

Source: Business Insider
Thanks to: Joystiq, Mark

Sunday, April 05, 2009

This week in ´neues´: Violence in videogames

I interviewed Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Cheryl Kay Olson, co-director at the ´Center for Mental Health and Media' and author of the book `Grand Theft Childhood` as part of today's program, focussing on violent videogames and their possible effect on children and adolescents. Here is an exclusive interview in English, which I translated for our webpage into German.

Why did you approach this debate about violent videogames? A lot of German politicians would have you believe there is plenty of research around already and it clearly reveals a causal relationship between violent video games and aggressive behavior.

There are actually fewer studies than people realize. Also, some studies don’t measure the content of games played (only how much time was spent playing games); other studies confuse children’s aggressive play with violence that’s intended to hurt someone. Many studies include only a few dozen children, and then claim to represent all children. And studies are often done with college studies in artificial settings, where the students play a game for 20 minutes (very unlike real life).

Our research (involving surveys and focus groups) was designed with the needs of parents in mind. We wanted to help parents (including ourselves!), teachers, doctors and politicians understand what kinds and amounts of video game play are normal, when to worry about violent video games, and when video games might even benefit children.

Violent video games are commonly linked to school shootings and videogame critics assert that they often push the perpetrators over the brink. Does that not make those games dangerous? The Bavarian interior minister called them “killing simulators” and compared the impact of them to the impact of child pornography.

There is so much publicity about school shootings in the US, Germany and other countries. But a review of the data shows that this type of violence is not increasing – it’s the media coverage of the violence that has gone way up. So, people believe that school violence is much more common than it is. (Your child is actually more likely to be struck and killed by lightning than to be shot at school.)

The Secret Service and the FBI in the US have studied school shootings in an effort to identify a “profile” of potential shooters and prevent these tragedies. They were not able to find a profile. The only thing these shooters had in common was male gender and (often) a history of treated or untreated depression. Some were bullies and some were victims of bullies; some were good students and some did poorly in school. Many did watch violent films or play violent games, but the average teenage boy today does this, too. School shooters often wrote stories about imagined violent acts, however.

Also, we researched the issue of whether it’s possible to learn to shoot from a video game. Experts told us that it’s actually not difficult to shoot a gun at someone who is not moving, is not shooting back at you, and is not far away from you – even if you have little experience with guns. Media reports on a few school shootings in the U.S. said that these boys had never fired a real gun, but learned only from video games; this turned out not to be true. They had practiced with real guns.

Your book seems to assert that a gut reaction to such a topic can often be misleading, even entirely wrong.

People have been worried about bad influences from new media ever since the debut of cheap paperback novels in the late 1800s. These fears were also expressed about violent movies, television, and comic books. One difference with video games is their interactive nature; if I’m concerned about a movie, I can rent it on DVD and fast-forward through it to see if the content is appropriate for my child. I can’t do that with a video game. Also, many parents don’t know how to operate the controls on their child’s video game console. And when parents see photos or short video clips from very violent games, they may wrongly assume all games are like that. Finally, the fact that these are called “games” makes people think they are for children; just like films, many video games are definitely not created for children.

Critics of video games often assert that violence in games is far more detrimental than violence in movies because you act out the violence yourself. Is that so? Or is there another way of looking at this? Could games even be the better vehicle for violence because the player can control the degree and pace of the violence? In a horror movie, I am at the director’s mercy and helplessly subjected to his idea of how much violence can be shown.

There are many opinions about this issue, but very little research. I can understand the argument that acting out violence seems worse than watching it. However, game controls are not at all like real weapons, and the physical movements used in games cannot train you to carry out real-life violence.

Also, the video game player is always aware that he is playing a game, and must take an active role to keep the game going. He can pause or quit at any time. One might argue that this reinforces the difference between the game world and the real world. When we watch a film, we have no control over the story and the only way we can stop it is to turn it off or leave the room; this is potentially more traumatizing for a child than a game that he controls.

You seem to be much more concerned with the effects of games used as marketing tools and browser games. Why is that?

When everyone is focused on violent content in commercially available, rated games, it can be easy to overlook Web-based games that may promote offensive attitudes or beliefs. It is impossible for governments to regulate or rate games that are played over the Internet. Parents need to be careful to monitor Internet use for that reason; some free web-based games are racist or sexist, while others push commercial products.

You are a mother yourself. What should parents do? Is it enough to check the age ratings?

One problem with the age ratings is that they don’t tell us about the context or the goals of the violence. Studies on TV violence tell us that the manner in which violence is portrayed could make a child more or less likely to imitate violence. For example, if the perpetrator of violence is appealing and attractive, if no pain or suffering is shown resulting from the violence, or if the violence is shown as humorous, these might increase the risk of imitation.
Age ratings also don’t address other things parents told us were important to them – such as whether violence is done to aliens, zombies or other unrealistic characters vs. realistic humans. And as one parent said, “"It's one thing, killing; it's another thing, you know, chopping, decapitating, lighting on fire…."

My son is now 19; he was 14 when we started our research on video games. Our computers were in a shared room, so I was able to observe the kinds of games he played and how he reacted to them, while I was doing work on my own computer. Some of his games had violent content, but what he really seemed to enjoy were interesting stories and complex characters. And at times, if he had a difficult day, he would work out his stress and anger through a violent game.

If possible, ask your child to teach you how to play part of a game he enjoys, and ask him to explain what he likes about it. Even if you are not comfortable playing video games yourself, it’s important to watch your child play now and then to see what is in his favorite games, and how he reacts to them. For example, most children feel more relaxed after playing a video game. If your child is more angry and stressed after playing a particular game, it may not be appropriate for him.

Finally, video games are part of today’s youth culture. Is it not perfectly healthy, even necessary for kids to play them? Should we not be worried when our kids do not play them at all?

It’s important to remember that electronic games are a medium – like books or films. We need to move beyond condemning the entire medium, and focus on the content of individual games. I can trace much of my son’s interest in world history and politics to computer games such as the Civilization and Age of Empires series. Many entertainment games also teach planning and strategy skills.

But just as some books are trashy or are inappropriate for children, so are some games. And, sometimes it’s good to read a book or play a game that doesn’t teach anything at all, but is simply fun or relaxing!

Our research found that for young teenage boys in particular, it is very unusual not to play electronic games. Your child may in fact be left out socially if he doesn’t play, because children often organize activities around group play as well as discussion of game characters and strategies.
However, parents have the right to set limits on when and how often their children play video games. I encourage parents to keep video game consoles, TVs and computers out of children’s bedrooms; we found that having a console or computer in the bedroom was linked to more time spent on games, and greater odds of playing violent games. Other researchers have found that technology in the bedroom also interferes with sleep, which is very important for children’s health and academic achievement.

It’s important not to panic if you find your child playing a game that upsets you. Just because a child pretends to be a criminal in a game, that does not mean he wants to be a criminal in real life. Children enjoy testing what it feels like to be different types of people in the safety of the fantasy video game world. However, it’s important to talk with your child about why you object to certain games, so he understands the reasons for your concerns. Try to find positive things to say about some of his games; this shows him that you value his interests and opinions, and helps build a good relationship.

The show is in German. You can watch it on television at these times:

Sunday, 5th of April, 4:30pm CET (3sat)
Tuesday, 7th of April, 1:50 am CET (ZDF)
Thursday, 9th of April, 1:30 pm CET (ZDF-Infokanal)

You can also watch it online through our station's Mediatheque. This direct link should be live already. Soon, you can download the entire programme through our podcast page, where you also find the above bonus content. Please also visit the show's blog for additional content.

Source: 3sat neues, `Grand Theft Childhood`