Picking apart the hype of new and classic video games.

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Inside the Christian Science Monitor

Earlier this month I was given a chance to sit in on an editorial board meeting of the Christian Science Monitor to get a feel for how a century-old paper handles the web.

                Or, to be more accurate, how a former paper handles the web.  Two years ago the format shifted from a daily print paper to an online presentation run alongside a weekend news magazine. Since then, editor John Yemma said the paper has seen a fivefold increase in web traffic as well as a rise in their (now cheaper) print subscription rates.

                The CSM began in 1908 through a fund provided by Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy as an international paper with a goal to not only highlight problems but track down possible solutions for the public. While the mission of the paper has not changed, the means through which the Monitor staff displays their stories certainly has.

I was extremely impressed with the amount of attention Yemma and his staff dedicated to the interactive component of their online paper. Throughout the budget meeting my class sat in on, the list of stories would often stop when a staffer inquired “how clickable is this story?”

                While many of these debates were resolved quickly, I did notice a few occasions where it seemed lists and slide shows may not have been the best way to present a story, but the need for click generation seemed to be the highest priority for many on staff. Granted, a look at the website on a given day seems to indicate that there is plenty of content floating around to keep the CSM’s audience busy.

                Even though the paper’s move online is only two years old, I have to admit that the staff seems to have a real handle on how to draw in readers and keep them coming back. Of particular interest to me was a brief talk we had on search engine optimization.

Although many online news sources are content to run short, searchable headlines, the CSM seems very well versed in presenting headlines that include every major keyword, but also add a healthy touch of context.

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2011: A Retro Odessey?

After years of slogging through gritty cover-based shooters, FPS fans may remember 2011 as the year developers rediscovered fun.

An increasing number of game companies are shrugging off the confines of reality and taking their projects back to the mid-90’s, a simpler time when all you needed to be an action hero was a neck the width of a California Redwood and an equally oversized gun. In these games, “cover” meant staring at a wall for a second or two while your BFG recharged.

Just yesterday Gears of War developer Epic Games and Polish micro-studio People Can Fly released Bulletstorm and have garnered quite a bit of acclaim from Wired, Joystiq and Gamespot, to name a few. The game has all the hallmarks of the mid-90’s bulletfests with over-the-top enemies, levels, weapons and (in a particularly quaint throwback) politcal rhetoric.

I’ll let you read the entire Fox News diatribe  for yourself, but here’s my favorite quote, taken from the second paragraph of the piece titled “Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?”

“The in-game awards system, called Skill Shots, ties the ugly, graphic violence into explicit sex acts: “topless” means cutting a player in half, while a “gang bang” means killing multiple enemies. And with kids as young as 9 playing such games, the experts FoxNews.com spoke with were nearly universally worried that video game violence may be reaching a fever pitch.”

Of course, FoxNews.com seems to ignore that the only way a 9 year-old can play this game is if they convince a parent (the game is rated 17+) to plunk down $60 without wondering weather a game called Bulletstorm may include depictions of violence or profanity.

The “think of the children!” argument has been old hat since Mortal Kombat, so let’s move beyond that. Instead, let’s think about the implications of Epic Games, one of the most popular development teams in the industry, returning to their run-and-gun roots.

There has always been a demand for nostalgic, over the top action. Serious Sam and People Can Fly’s previous title Painkiller both became cult classics on the PC in 2001 and 2004 respectively, and the sudden unearthing and pending revival of Duke Nukem Forever seems to indicate that developers are willing to dig into the bargain bin and pull out an old classic or two.

But does this mean the industry is being dumbed down? In my opinion, it’s quite the opposite.

Sure, the action itself doesn’t seem too cerebral and Wired reviewer Chris Kohler is quick to chide Bulletstorm for it’s uncomfortable fixation on male anatomy-related jokes, but where some might see a step backward, I see a refreshingly self-referencial sense of humor. Rather than digging deeper and deeper into the bummed-out world of grit where we see over the top melodrama (GOWII spoiler warning,) Epic Games is moving back into the realm of goofy escapism that made these games popular in the first place.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a giant robo-dinosaur with lasers. Your argument is invalid. See how much fun that was?


Modern Warfare’s “No Russian” left holding the bag. Again.

In the wake of a massive suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport on Monday, Russian officials and media outlets have linked the attack to last year’s hotly debated Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 mission “No Russian.”

The mission has the player assume the role of an undercover anti-terrorism agent who must take part in a machine gun rampage through an unnamed Russian airport, gunning down civilians, security staff and police in order to maintain his cover alongside four accomplices. The scene ends with your character’s cover being blown at which point you are shot and left as evidence that the American government sponsored the attack, sparking World War III.

Follow this link to see the full mission yourself. (Link is really, really not safe for work, kids, the impressionable ect.) (more…)


Tapping the Mic

Welcome to my as yet undefined blog.

This being one of my first forays into the world of online journalism, I ask readers bear with me. Also, please figure out a way to pay me for my coverage.

While I wait for my internet money, I’m going to practice some of my linking and other blog skills.