Band Hero Features More Female Vocalists

When reading through gaming news on Monday afternoon, I read that the whole setlist of the tracks in the upcoming Band Hero game had been released. I went to take a look to see what songs had made the cut, and was pleasantly surprised to see names of female singers or bands with female vocalists over and over throughout the list.

About one third of the songs in the game are sung by women, and they represent a variety of musical styles. Corinne Bailey Rae is there, as are Janet Jackson, No Doubt, Pat Benatar, and Taylor Swift, among others. While I enjoy playing Guitar Hero and Rock Band, most of the default songs in the game have always been from bands with male vocalists. But in the past few years, these titles have been at the forefront of social gaming, and found fans among both genders. Yet it wasn’t until now that there was a respectable number of songs there from female vocalists. Before, it felt a bit like tokenism. Perhaps seven or eight tracks out of fifty or sixty would feature women. It made it more difficult to find something in one’s vocal range if singing that round.

Maybe they realized the game appeals across gender lines. Maybe it was developers realizing that adding more songs by women wouldn’t alienate or weird out the male players. Maybe licensing came more easily this time around. Whatever the reason, I consider it progress and look forward to playing the game.


My latest piece for The Escapist is up. I was happy to see
that it got the lead spot on the homepage for the week. I don’t know how that
decision is made, but it was certainly nice to see. This piece was a bit
personal, sprung out of a little reflection last summer about Silent Hill 4. I
decided to do some further reading on Hispanic female video game characters
only to discover that no one had written it yet.


I read an editorial over the summer by author Steven Saylor,
whose Roma Sub Rosa series I read in its entirety last year, where he
said something along the lines of: writers are always advised to write what
they know, but a writer should write the story he or she would like to read.
This was in reference to fiction, but it’s definitely equally applicable to
nonfiction. So I saw an opportunity and ran with it.


In other news, I joined Twitter a while back and I’m finally
starting to use it a little bit. At first, all I had was Greg Grunberg on my
follow list, but now I’ve added some other interesting people. What an
amazingly trivial concept, yet such an addictive site. I must say that LeVar
Burton has one of the coolest tattoos I’ve ever seen. It’s an ambigram of his
first name and “Kunta”, a tribute, of course, to his Roots role. Dan Brown may
have brought ambigrams into the popular conscious, but LeVar’s tattoo made them


Finally, the Times Square Virgin Megastore is set to close
in April
. I haven’t bought a CD there in a while, but that store holds so many
memories for me. I went there very frequently as a teen, attended signings,
in-store concerts, and sometimes just considered it a throbbing, lively, oasis
where I could drop in to listen to some of my favorite new songs and wander
around what seemed to me quite the cool location.


The prices were sometimes a tad high, but sale time was the
best. Lots of gems to be had. Apparently, a six-million dollar annual profit
isn’t enough for the chain’s new owners. The location is set to house a Century
21 discount designer clothing shop. I recall Century 21 liked to advertise
itself as “NY’s best kept secret”. Hard to live up to that when you’re taking a
prime Times Square area location. No matter. If it hadn’t been C21, it would’ve
been another client willing to fork over the cash.


Even for this native kid, this store was a destination. Say
what you will about big box type places, but this one going is a loss. I loved
how the jazz and vocal section was so quiet, even though the rest of the store
had loud, pumping music throughout. The last time I was there was for Christmas
shopping last year, and it was still the same chaotic, bright place. And I’m
sure it will remain so until April.

No PvP Safeguards in Age of Conan?

During Funcom's GDC presentation, Game Director Gaute Godager responded to a reporter's question about player-versus-player combat, and the problem of ganking with a potentially worrisome solution: Don't join a PvP server.

Depending upon your point of view, this is either the most logical thing in the world or a complete cop out. Godager's statements reflect what seems to be a complete free-for-all option on these servers. At least several months ago, it seemed that there would be safeguards in place to prevent players of very high levels from attacking or engaging players of much lower levels. The rules appear to have changed, and PvP, while in some cases restricted to within designated areas, seems to be open to a large problem with griefing.

Most MMO players know that griefing can be extremely frustrating to deal with, especially in the lower levels. These cyber bullies can even turn players off from renewing their subscriptions. So why make this decision? It seems the vocal members of the PvP audience, in many instances on the official community forums, figured that if the game were aiming for realistic, violent, and mature combat, then it might as well be "realistic" in this aspect as well. Thus, as the game currently stands, a bored level 80 may attack and kill a level 25 without consequence.

I'm not a big PvPer. I engage with friends or guildmates, or occasionally one on one when I'm in the mood. The promised rules blocking high level characters from ganging up on low levels represented the one thing making the possibility of playing on a PvP server remotely tolerable. I don't want other people to dictate how I spend my game time or be allowed to ruin my fun via griefing. If my character has a fair shot of beating someone, then that is tolerable on a PvP server. But to allow free-for-all attacks is just inviting trouble. Bad decision, Funcom.

Dreaming in Video Games

I woke up yesterday from a dream in which I was playing the Shalebridge Cradle level from Thief: Deadly Shadows. Only I was in Garrett's quiet shoes moving about the Inner Cradle, past the Puppets, hoping they wouldn't get me on my mission.

I think it's funny how a moment in a video game I played about four years ago can have such an impact as to come back that vividly in a distant dream. How everything from the Puppets' gait, to the humming electrical buzz that followed them were reproduced pretty authentically.

If you've never played the game, Puppets are a name for the enemies in the Shalebridge Cradle, a former Medieval mental hospital-slash-orphanage. They represent the mental hospital's former patients, wearing elements of their torture at the hands of the doctors as representative of their unfortunate experiences there. They walk slowly, their heads shake unnaturally – and the lights flicker whenever they're around. Oh, and did I mention they're also followed by an electric buzz? They sport wire cages around their hands and their heads, which occasionally conduct the juice. They make a terrible shrieking noise if you get too close, followed by an attempt to pummel you. Creepily.

That whole "Robbing the Cradle" sequence was amazing. One of the best examples of level design I've ever seen Kieron Gillen wrote a great article about it, available here. I can't begin to summarize how brilliantly he covered it, but I was sort of pleased to find out I wasn't alone in having this experience:

"Well, when mapping a section for this feature, I physically screamed when one of the inmates pulled himself from the ground unexpectedly and lurched to attack."

I not only screamed (more than once, I think), but jumped so hard I went all the way back in my chair as to hit the wall behind me. Now that's good design. One of about three moments in all my years of gaming that a game has made me scream in fear, and easily the top one.

I wouldn't call the dream a nightmare. It was fun, even if a tad scary. It's kind of like a virtual reality version of the game. This wasn't the first time I was living video games I've played in my dreams either. It's always quite memorable. VR isn't quite here yet, so I'll take this version of the experience.

Taking the Wii Seriously

I was reading some gaming news today and saw the announcement for Wonderworld Amusement Park for the Wii. Now, I think the Wii has much to offer, but developers are still not taking it very seriously. The system is overloaded with minigame compilations. The pack-in Wii Sports is a minigame compilation itself.

Now, recently, many have been blaming low software sales for all but first-party titles. Economically speaking, that's a bad sign, but when you take into account just how many developers underestimated the Wii's potential success, these numbers might not even be relevant in a year. What's going to determine that? Well, better software should be a start. However, in order to get to that point, studios have to assign more development time, team members, and budget. And they have to stop thinking in such simplistic terms for the console.

It was a port, but Resident Evil 4 showed just how a serious, "hardcore" title could work on this system. With refreshed controls, it took advantage of the system's capabilities in a well-integrated, not tacked-on, manner. There are marquee titles on the way like Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which I'm looking forward to, but then there are the junky, gimmicky, low-budget titles. Every console has its duds, but current the failure of developers to take the Wii seriously is something to watch. I certainly hope we see at least a somewhat different picture by this time next year, with fewer throwaway titles. I'm aware that the Wii is marketed as a very social system with a low barrier to entry. It is. But that doesn't mean that there can't be a slew of even more amazing titles in development.

The Orange Box

This is awesome.

If you haven't yet tried Team Fortress 2,  don't miss it if you like multiplayer shooters or competitive games in general. It's some of the most fun I've ever had with a shooter. Don't be put off by the cartoonish style, there's quality gameplay and lots of humor. Very much worth playing.

Speaking of humor, The Orange Box is loaded with it, even though I've only played through a portion of it over at my boyfriend's house. I've previously played Half-life 2 , but this time around have gotten to play TF2 and Peggle Extreme, which is a pretty darn funny edition. Portal, which I haven't played yet, but which I have heard a whole lot about and seen videos from, is full of weird, sometimes quite morbid, humor.

Halloween is coming up, but I don't have any plans this year. Have a ton of writing and work to do, but I'm considering trying NaNoWriMo again, and giving it a serious push this time. Haven't decided just yet.

“Women + PC Gaming: BFF”

I was reading the latest issue of Games for Windows magazine today (October, the one with F.E.A.R. sequels on the cover) and came across this "advertorial" near the back tech section. Ugh, I know Microsoft features these as part of its sponsor partnership with Ziff-Davis, but this one was particularly close to home.

It begins – "Women who play Games for Windows: It's not a myth, and  it's not a publicity stunt."

Wow, Microsoft. Thanks for telling me that I play games. I had trouble believing it before, but now I am assured that this activity of mine is not a publicity stunt.

Wait, it gets better.

"That's right–there are real, everyday ladies playing computer games (even hardcore favorites such as Age of Empires III [Microsoft, Rated T] and Shadowrun [Microsoft, Rated M] the entire world over this very minute!"

Once again, thank you Microsoft, and writer Christa Phillips for letting me know that the mysterious creature known as the female that plays games is not a rare local species and is found throughout the world. Even sometimes playing hardcore titles. OMG!

It's not the content that I'm taking issue with so much as the presentation. The cutesy title and writing style makes me read the entire piece in this syrupy hyper voice in my head. It's also written in this patronizing way that I suppose is meant to speak to the mostly male readership of gaming magazines, but comes off as treating the female gamer as something of an exotic mystery, even while its aim is to debunk that sort of thing.

There are actually some on-target comments from some women quoted in the article, but the overall style of the piece just rubbed me the wrong way.

Part of the ending paragraph, "Women who love to game still look forward to the day when guys value our sniper skills as much as our crafting abilities. Until then we'll find safety and acceptance in female gaming groups like GamerchiX and PMS Clan…," also hit upon one aspect that I've thought about often. That is whether or not all-female clans and groups make further integration into the greater gaming community easier or more difficult.

But that's a topic for another day.

Game Bits

I enjoyed Kingdom Hearts and its sequel on the PS2, Kingdom Hearts II. So, I was wondering just what SquareEnix would announce at this year's Tokyo Game Show. Promises of something unlike a direct sequel, something else in the franchise were rampant before the announcement.

Just like with the upcoming Final Fantasy XIII, the new Kingdom Hearts installments come in triplicate. The PSP installment sounds a bit like Knights of the Old Republic, in the KH universe. Called Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, it takes place many years before the events of Kingdom Hearts, and features gameplay like the PS2 titles we know. The story seems to have something to do with Keyblade users in search of a master. 1UP's preview suggested the main character looks like Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core's Zack. I haven't seen the video yet myself.

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is a 3D game for the Nintendo DS that features Roxas from KHII, apparently in his Organization XIII days. This game apparently ties into the secret ending video attained at the end of the Japan-only Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix.

The last title, is a cellphone game called Kingdom Hearts: Coded, that seems to run parallel to events in Chain of Memories.

Nothing on a PS3 KH3, which was what many had hoped for for a while. However, since that possibility was sort of put to rest, the question remains whether any of these new titles will serve as a sort of bridge to KH3 like Chain of Memories did between the first two games.

Popular Science has a nice feature on the tech side of game creation. A look at processors and more here.

Team Fortress 2 is making me laugh with its oddball, cartoony sense of humor. Anyone know the voice cast? I'm just curious if I've heard any of these guys before because some sound slightly familiar.

Game Bits

An Oklahoma court has overturned the law in that state criminalizing certain video game sales to minors. A victory for parents and for gamers. I hope that other states, including New York, my home, will follow suit. To criminilize the sale of games undermines parental rights, and separates games unfairly from other media such as movies, music, or even books, that are either available to all freely or have self-regulated industry policies.

I'm also trying to pick my next game. Though I haven't finished Final Fantasy VII yet, I'm thinking perhaps Grim Fandango will be next.

An interesting debate about the new “Game Fuel” ad

I meant to write about this earlier, but someone opened up an interesting debate over at the girl_gamers community over at LiveJournal. She asked a few questions about the ad currently running for Pepsi's Halo 3 marketing tie-in soda, Mountain Dew Game Fuel. I have tried the soda. It tastes like liquid gummy bears. I will also
be getting to Halo 3 at some point. Obviously, I'm within the customer
base for both products.

Personally, I think the ad would have been great if there were a female at the end, but I think it works just fine with a male there. Hey, at least it's sort of ethnically and racially diverse. Admittedly, many people would have found the ad gimmicky if the end showed a female beating all those other male players. I don't think that's deserved, but it would have been how many people would have perceived it.

I do think that the agency really made a mistake in not including any portrayals of any female gamers, however. I'm aware that the console market is overwhelmingly male, but we're far from nonexistent, and it would have been a nice nod. Instead, we're treated to stereotypes like a guy playing while his apparent girlfriend reads on the bed in the background and a guy playing while what looks like his mom is in the background putting something on the kitchen table.

In other words, we're in the background, uninterested, and definitely not active players, as portrayed in this ad. It's sad that putting a female in that role in the end would have been seen as gimmicky and as a potential joke, but I doubt the bottom line would have been hurt had a female been included amongst the frustrated gamers in the ad. In other words, if we'd been shown as involved and not as merely background set pieces.