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Kickstarter Preview: Psi Wars

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It is the 37th century. Competing warlords have harnessed the knowledge of creation, using it to create powerful armies. This knowledge has spread across the galaxy unchecked causing mass-extinctions. Most of humanity has been wiped out. The Galactic Alliance has enlisted your help. Hyper-Card technology allows you to take part in planetary battles and help re-establish order in the galaxy.

In Psi Wars you’ll use advanced technologies to create an army of forces in order to fight for control of your planet. Creatures battle psyonically, physically, and through cyber attacks. To win, a player must use their army to crush their opponent’s forces and reduce their lab to 0.

Developed by Michael Wohl (a self professed old school gamer) and his son, Adeev (who usually wins their games), Psi Wars is a fast playing futuristic themed deck builder for 2-4 players. I chatted with the boys about Psi Wars and the game design process in anticipation of their Kickstarter launch.

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What prompted the development of Psi Wars?

Michael: My son Adeev and I have been playing games for years, including all sorts of card games. Since I have been a gamer for 40 years and an an entrepreneur for 30 (thanks to gaming) – I had a lot of experience to pull from, both as a gamer and a developer. I really felt games that had absolutes, such as games where a 5 always beat a 4) were missing important elements of life. A 5 has a better chance of beating a 4, but not 100%. In life there are no absolutes, which could be reflected in a game. We realized that we could create a multi-dimensional game that had relatively simple rules with tremendous degrees of freedom of decision-making. This would lead to highly creative strategies – a beautiful balance of creativity and reasoning. We went through so many iterations and refinements together. I like Decision-Making research, Game Theory, etc, which is at the heart of Psi Wars.

Adeev: My dad and I like to play a lot of games and watch movies together. We started bending rules of some games and really enjoyed the process. We thought we could expand this idea.

What did you think about the design/playtesting process? What did you like/dislike?

Adeev: It was a really fun and educational experience. I was able to create something from my imagination. I kept thinking of new cards and abilities and would share them with my dad. I created spreadsheets with tons of ideas. It was really fun doing this with my dad, we learned a lot together and I now know what it takes to launch a business.

 I was always a bit impatient about getting the game out there and always excited for new ideas. I even started counting down the days until launch. I even get to go to game conventions for ‘work.’ I mean, how cool is that?

Michael: The design and play testing was a highlight of the entire process. Our goal was a beautifully balanced game. Every time we changed a small rule it would change us and how we played. We’d see if there was a way to ‘game’ the rules, etc. Once it was refined, we sought highly sophisticated players of other strategic card games and their reaction was wonderful – nobody has played anything quite like Psi Wars. It was invigorating to recognize the excitement they found in playing our game. The other piece was working with all of the artists around the world to create an artistic vision that works also as 3D animated lenticular cards. We were lucky to work with some amazing people to produce outstanding art. Everyone flips out over the 3D cards. From the start, we wanted the game to be mesmerizing from an artistic and sensory perspective. I think holding back Psi Wars until it was really ready to launch was hard. We worked on it for over 2.5 years and we are dying for people to play it. We are very curious to see what all of the amazing minds in the world do when they start to construct/personalize their own decks and strategies. We have non-random expansion packs in the works.

What do you hope your audience gets/takes away from the game?

Michael: Really appreciating the card art while kicking some serious butt through mind-bending strategies that make you jump up and down and scream like we do when we play.  A new joy that playing Psi Wars brings through creative strategy and decision-making. Navigating the fog of war with perfectly imperfect information, which helps so much to understand how to thrive in the world.

Adeev: I hope they have as much fun and enjoyment as we do playing Psi Wars.

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Psi Wars is great intro to deck builders for new players and a intensely fast playing game for experienced ones with striking art that really evokes its sci-fi theme. Check it out on Kickstarter May 15th. Keep up with their progress and updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Why I Came Back to Overwatch

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Vel got Overwatch on Xbox One to play with his friends. I spent one night going through the tutorial and playing different characters against the computer. I enjoyed it, it was fun, but I was too nervous to talk to my teammates. I may have said “Hi” once, but two very important things were swimming through my head:

  1. Every time I’ve talked to a bunch of people I didn’t know over Xbox, it ended badly. Usually in trolling through the entire match, mostly because I am female. I am used to harassment, but that doesn’t mean that I want to put myself in a situation with the potential for harassment when I’m not streaming.
  2. Overwatch is considered one of the most toxic gaming communities. To me, that just screams that the above-mentioned harassment is bound to happen. Plus, I’ve left several games ( League of Legends is one of them ) due to that elitist attitude.

So I finished playing, put my controller down and didn’t pick it up again. At the time, I didn’t really have a problem with this because I didn’t know anyone who had it and played it often. Why bother with it? Plus, there is always Paladins, and that’s free-to-play.

Years went by and I didn’t think about it. I occasionally saw a streamer I follow playing it, but that was about it. That was until I started to make friends with the people who played it. Now it was more than just streamers I followed playing, it was my friends. Of course, I’m going to go into their streams, even if I’m not 100% interested in the game because that is what friends do. We hang out, show love and support and never miss an opportunity to watch them get sniped from across the map.

They looked like they were having SO MUCH FUN. I was even having fun watching them play. They would tell me about what characters they liked and why. I noticed that the outfits are amazing and they’ve added new characters. There is so much to see and many events to be had. I wanted to give it a go, play with friends and see if that makes a difference. Pro Tip: friends typically make any game way better. Big problem: all of my friend’s play PC and I have it on Xbox One. I was going to have to wait.

When I started to talk about it, though, an amazing friend sent me a copy. I call it an early birthday present. I installed it and played with them the very next day. I had so much fun! Much more than I had by myself. I played for nearly 4 hours and then came back later that night and played for another hour or more. Right now I have the itch to play, but I have work and no one is on. That also helps me from getting burned out on a game.

The game is nicknamed Oversalt, so of course there were some salty people. I turned off the general chat. After the match, people were a bit salty but mostly they just said “GG” and moved on. I was more concerned with talking with my friends in group chat and opening my loot boxes.

My take away from this is this: form your own opinion. Don’t avoid a game just because of the community, especially if you can play with friends. I feel the same way about Dead by Daylight and Friday the 13th, both are games that I love to play but often have to deal with annoying people, just like Overwatch. I’m glad that I had an opportunity to play a great game with amazing people.

Guest Post: The Number of Female Gamers is Rising, Studies Show, so What’s the Problem?

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Gaming research studies for several years have been dealing major blows to the stereotypical view of the typical gamer as a white guy in his mom’s basement. In 2014, a paper by the Internet Advertising Bureau showed that a shocking 52 percent of the total gaming audience is actually women. It indicated a rise from the 49 percent in 2012. By 2017, the most recent research shows that this number had risen to an incredible 65 percent. The 2017 Google Play and Newzoo study revealed that women are now more than half of the gamer population.

The rising number of female gamers should be a positive sign for women in gaming, who have been long marginalized, discriminated against, and openly harassed by fellow male gamers. The million-dollar question now is, is it really? While women are boosting the multibillion-dollar gaming industry, largely by playing various mobile games, the sector is still struggling to accommodate female gamers. Many women gamers, it turns out, largely feel underrepresented in the gaming sector. Let’s consider some of the contributing reasons:

Persistent Stigma
Female gamers may have the numbers on their side, but the general attitudes in the industry largely stigmatize them. Veteran female gamers complain of bias female gamers still have to face. The stigma can be pervasive enough to drive women to pretend to be men when playing. Researchers have noted that a considerable number of female gamers do not disclose their gender because of fear of being alienated by male players. The “gamergate” scandal brought to light the level of misogyny hardcore female gamers have to face. There are also more subtle hints of misogyny indicated in surveys. Another Google Play survey found that male gamers are more likely to spend time playing with others if they know those other players are also male.

Lack of Female Game Developers
While the female percentage in the player sector is on the rise, the same is not true for women game developers, designers, or creators. Women players may be owning it in mobile games or building their own gaming PCs, but according to the International Game Developers Association, only less than 30 percent of developers in the gaming industry are either female or transgender. This affects how women are depicted in games, obviously. The traditional mold of the female characters in games being over-exaggerated sex symbols is still prominent, which discourages female gamers from trying out some of the top ranking titles. It should be noted though that some activist developers are trying to include more diverse and wholesome female characters in games.

Male Toons are Still Prominent
Women are getting into the gaming scene largely thanks to the rise of gaming apps. Women of all ages and from nearly all walks of life can play games while on the move. Some women, like new mothers, report that mobile gaming is a pleasant distraction. Naturally, these female gamers prefer to adopt female avatars and toons for in-game experiences. However, a majority of games still feature male personas rather than female ones. Google found out that the 44 percent of game app icons on Google
Play feature male faces rather than female ones, despite the majority of women consuming these products. A survey found that over 60 percent of female gamers think no more than one-third of mobile games are made for women.

The fact that the number of female gamers is on the rise should be a pleasant and welcoming development for aspiring female gamers and developers everywhere. But as the points above indicate, gender parity is still far from reality in gaming. Hopefully in the future, with more female gamers and developers, these unequal factors may change for the better.

Written By: Tracy Plunkett, Kiwi writer with a love for gadgets, games, and music. I also have an unhealthy obsession with cats.

Influental Women in the Gaming Industry: Jessica Chobot

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Jessica Chobot gained exposure in the gaming world when a picture of her licking a Sony PSP surfaced in 2005. That photo has been parodied heavily since and has been attempted by many as an example of the “fake gamer girl” stereotype. Little did anyone know what Chobot would acomplish. Instead of letting that break her. Chobot used it to fuel her career. Since, she has worked for IGN, become a writer, a voice actress for games, and also works for the Nerdist.

There is always a risk of being mocked when a person is un-apologetically excited and open about loving “geeky” things. For women, it is even more so. That is why it is important to share the stories of people who have taken that passion and turned it into a career.

Chobot was hired by IGN full time in 2006. She quickly won over fans with her fun personality and knowledge of video games. As her popularity grew so did her role in IGN. Chobot was able to foray into The Daily Fix, IGN Strategize and IGN GameBreaks for FOX Television.

nerdist-jessicaChobot has been able to traveled for IGN and represent them in multiple forums. She has also gotten to write for; FHM UK, Mania.com and MAXIM print. She has also appeared on many shows such as but not limited to; Attack of the Show, ABC World News, EXTRA!, FOX News Live and CBS News as an industry expert. Chobot has been a weekly commentator on multiple radio shows and has also had guest star appearances on the Syfy channel’s Sci vs Fi.  The Nerdist also currently benefits from Chobot adding her talents to their roster.

Chobot is a very passionate fan of anime. She has been able to use her fame to appear on commercials for ADV’s Anime Network. Chobot continues to find new forums to live her passions. She has also gotten to show her love of gaming by guest staring on Geek and Sundry, including a one shot D&D game with Vin Diesel.  

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Jessica Chobot has shown how important it is to geek out and follow your passion. If you work hard and let your personality shine you will be able to achieve anything you set your mind to. 

Always keep sparkling! 

Adventure Framework Part 1: Start at the Beginning

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“A few small, mostly melted candles adorn an old round table at the center of this shadowy room. The candle light flickers lightly as you step into the room through an ornate curtain. The dancing luminescence wicks over numerous porcelain masks covering the walls, their demonic visage accentuated almost seeming alive. A single gold censer hangs from the ceiling, swaying lightly, it’s pungent smoke cascading from it. Sitting at the low table is an ancient man, legs crossed, as he adjusts himself on one of the oversized pillows set around the room. His eyes are glazed and pale white, his beard grey, long, and scraggly. He wears an enormous red turban adorned with silver baubles and ornaments. An ornate red demon mask lies on the table in front of him, his gangly fingers gently tracing its features. His head tilts towards you, looking more with his ears than his eyes. In a raspy yet elegant voice he says: ‘You’ve come! Have you brought it?’ “

This is an introductory event I planned out for an adventure set in a fantastical and far off, foreign land. After gathering some information from the players, I set out to design an introduction to the game WE decided to play. These introductions are an art form that takes practice to get right. They come in many shapes and sizes; though, I much prefer to use these events as an introduction to the game we will be playing. Therefore, when you plan your session 0 this should be the first thing you present to your players. This moment is an accumulation of the story you want to run as well as a representation of what your players ask for in your initial chats about playing the game. (You really should chat a bit with your players before you set up a session 0.) Each introductory event will be different depending on the type of game your players want to play and the story you want to tell.

Read the rest of this entry

Influental Women in the Gaming Industry: Yoko Shimomura

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The gaming industry would not be the same without Yoko Shimomura. She is a talented composer and musician. Yoko has used these talents to bring some of our favorite video games to life.

Yoko was born in Japan in 1967. She started playing the piano at a young age and found that she really enjoyed it. Yoko then graduated from Osaka College of Music in 1988.  After graduating Yoko knew that she had options on how she could share her talents with the rest of the world. She knew that her music had the power to make the world a better place.

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She decided to pursue a career in a field where she would become one of the most famous video game composers in the world. Yoko started her journey by working for Capcom. From 1993 to 2002 Yoko worked for Square Enix. From 2003 on Yoko has been working as a freelance composer.

Yoko has given life and beauty to many different video games throughout the years. She has worked on the Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam soundtrack to give it a lighter and more upbeat feel. Gamers can listen to Yoko’s stylings as they restore the land in the Legend of Mana soundtrack. Anther popular RPG is the Kingdom Hearts games which Yoko also lent her talents to. Final Fantasy XY has also benefited from Yoko’s talents as a composer.
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Yoko Shimomura has given the world of gamers much beauty. She shows that all kinds of talents are needed to make the gaming industry great. She has taken risks to bring her music to the world and they have, thankfully, paid off. Yoko is an example of how hard work and creativity makes the world a richer place to live. Sometimes your talent can even make multiple worlds richer.

Always keep sparkling.

Review: Diddy Kong Racing

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When I’m not playing video games or writing, I can be found working at the library. Every other month or so, I like to combine my job with my interests by bringing all kinds of video game systems to the library for people to play. When that happens, I’m always amused by the way everyone gravitates towards Mario Kart.

It doesn’t matter which Nintendo systems I put out, whether it’s the brand-new Switch or the Super Nintendo. It doesn’t matter what games I include. Splatoon 2? Super Smash Bros. Melee? Anything from Legend of Zelda? Just Dance? Nah, Mario Kart 64, Double Dash, or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will work just fine, thank you very much.

It makes perfect sense because the Mario Kart series is so much fun to play. It’s a game that you can enjoy whether you’re a hardcore or casual gamer. It’s more fun when you can race against one of your friends or family members, but I love it even when I’m playing by myself.

That said, Mario Kart isn’t my favorite racing game. That honor belongs to Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64. As kids, my brother and I, along with our friends, spent countless hours playing it. In Diddy Kong Racing, you have the option to choose from three different vehicles: car, hovercraft, or airplane. You’re also required to unlock racetracks in multiplayer mode by completing them in the single player adventure mode. But that’s less of an issue now, if you buy a used copy from your local retro game store with a preexisting save file.

Unlike Mario, Diddy Kong Racing has a story, albeit a very loose one. Diddy’s friend, Timber the Tiger, gets put in charge of his parents’ peaceful island. Unfortunately, a giant, evil pig called Wizpig arrives and conquers the island. Desperate to clear things up before his parents get home, Timber gathers up his friends to defeat Wizpig…by racing him. It makes no sense, but it’s just an excuse plot for racing. I do like that it’s there because it used to give me a feeling of accomplishment whenever my brother and I won enough races to unlock another part of the island.

Each track comes with extra items you can use to give your character a boost. They come in the form of balloons and they’re less random than Mario. Red balloons give you missiles, Blue gives you a speed boost, Green gives you obstacles to drop, Yellow gives you a shield, and Rainbow gives you a magnet that you can use to pull other racers behind you. Unless you’re in a tight spot, you’ll want to hold off using the balloons right away. Hitting a certain colored balloon two or three times will provide you with power-ups. For example, if you collect one red balloon, you’ll get one missile. If you collect two, your missile will have a higher accuracy. If you collect three reds, you’ll get ten missiles.

You’ll need all of the balloons you can find when you finish the regular racetracks. Diddy Kong Racing has four thematic “worlds” on the island: Dino Domain, Snowflake Mountain, Sherbet Island, and Dragon Forest. (After you’ve defeated Wizpig, you unlock a secret world with even more tracks.) Once you’ve completed the tracks that make up a particular world, you get to challenge the boss. And the bosses are definitely a challenge. They’re fast and they start running before you do. If you don’t hit every speed boost and enough red missile balloons, you’re doomed.

In addition to regular races, you can unlock different mini games in each world. My all-time favorite was Icicle Pyramid. It’s basically a family-friendly version of the Hunger Games. You and three other players get dropped into a pyramid course with a certain amount of lives. Using the Red missile balloons or the Green obstacle balloons, you have to try to take out everyone else before they kill you. My friends and I would often form alliances to knock off the computer AIs and then turn on each other. I was no Katniss Everdeen and often lost. But we all had a blast with it.

Diddy Kong Racing also has a fantastic soundtrack. Even if you’re struggling against Wizpig or one of the other bosses, the fast-paced music gets you pumped and ready to try again. Diddy Kong is bright and colorful as well. Although it’s obviously no Mario Kart 8, the graphics for this Nintendo 64 game still hold up.

I should also point out that Diddy Kong got a remake for the Nintendo DS. It’s okay, but I’m not a fan of it. They had to replace some of the characters, namely Banjo from Banjo Kazooie and Conker from Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and mini games like Icicle Pyramid can only be accessed by playing against a friend in multiplayer. So if you don’t know another person with a DS and a copy of the game, you’re out of luck.

(Fun fact: Speaking of Conker, he was my favorite racer in Diddy Kong. One day, I saw a game called Conker’s Bad Fur Day at the game store and got excited. A game starring that cute little squirrel that I loved? HOORAY! Thank God my innocent eleven-year-old self did not purchase it. I had no idea how much Conker’s personality had changed in that M-rated, South Park-esque game.)

So if you have a Nintendo 64 lying around, give Diddy Kong Racing a try! It’s a lot of fun and the bosses provide some serious challenges that you won’t necessarily find in other racing games.

…or you can play Mario Kart 64 instead. I won’t judge you. I’ll probably join you. It is Mario Kart, after all. 🙂