Reboots Upon Reboots: When Reinventing A Franchise Works

It feels sometimes that modern media relies more heavily on reboots than it really should. Anyone who’s seen the movies from their childhood make their way back to the cinema, or seen their children watching rebooted versions of their favourite childhood shows, will know what we mean. This problem, however, seems even more prominent in the world of gaming. With gaming as an industry being one of the youngest entertainment industries out there, why do they keep rebooting their franchises?

There have been several high profile reboots of popular video games, most recently the recent release of Doom, the latest title in the Doom franchise. Like some other gaming series such as Tomb Raider, this is actually it’s second reboot, after Doom 3.

Doom has released to mostly positive reviews, and it’s not the only reboot to do so. There have been some very successful reboots made, such as Fallout 3, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. What we’ve seen from these releases is that the reboot does something new and interesting with the game, rather than rehashing the same old mechanics. Fallout 3 took the franchise from a turn based RPG to a first person shooter with phenomenal success, and Prince of Persia introduced 3D platforming and the ability to reverse time itself.

As well as the gameplay, some developers have tinkered with the way the game is released to the public. The reboot of Hitman, released initially in March, was released in episodic chunks, as will the reboot of Final Fantasy 7. Both announcements caused some controversy, Hitman because the announcement came so late before it’s initial release date, and Final Fantasy 7 because fans felt that it would hurt the game. So far, the opinion on Hitman is that it feels ‘unfinished’, rather than episodic.

Of course, not every reboot goes well. For every success, there’s a handful of disappointments and downright failures. Notable mentions are 2006’s Sonic The Hedgehog, which awkwardly tried to mash the cartoony platformer of the originals with a more modern, human setting, and Dungeon Keeper, which came out as a free to play app with unreasonable paywalls. The most famous failure out there, though, is Duke Nukem 3D. 15 years in development and countless developers, platforms and console generations later, it’s generally considered to be a sprawling mess, out of date and appealing to gamers that weren’t around anymore.

So, reboots have a rather mixed history, their success based on whether a developer can create something new and interesting with a franchise, and whether there’s still an audience for it. In an interesting twist on the normal reboot formula, Timesplitters Rewind is being created directly by the audience that wants it. Heartbroken by the cancellation of Timesplitters 4, they petitioned Crytek to allow them to create the game themselves, and surprisingly, they agreed. Now you can follow their progress on their website, as well as donate towards the project, as the licence agreement doesn’t allow them to use crowdfunding such as Kickstarter.

So, is the gaming industry relying too heavily on reboots? Quite possibly. However, when a reboot is done well, it can kick off a whole new, entertaining, and successful franchise. With more original ideas being found in indie games, and the rising costs of triple A game development, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing more of them. If we can get more Fallout 3’s than Duke Nukem 3Ds, we’ll be doing ok.

Disney Infinity Isn’t So Infinite Anymore

After just three years of dominating the toys to life gaming scene, Disney have announced that they are ending their Disney Infinity series.

At first, the news was surprising, as Disney Infinity had been a runaway success. When the game was first released,the toys became a smash hit and many became hard to find in stores. It was a welcome boost for the Disney Gaming division, who hadn’t seen much success beforehand. Between 2008 and 2013, the division lost $1.3 billion, but with the introduction of Disney Infinity they made $550 million in just the first ten months of release. By all accounts, it was a worthy competitor to the likes of Skylanders and Nintendo’s Amiibos.

However, it seems as though Disney’s highly collectible toys may have been part of its downfall. Following on from the initial shortages, they decided to create larger ranges of characters in higher numbers, in order to avoid shortages in the future. The tactic worked to a degree, but soon stores found themselves overflowing with Infinity characters that they just couldn’t shift. Releasing more complete character collections, such as the ones created for the Guardians of the Galaxy film release, meant that there were many minor characters out there that were very well made, but just weren’t selling. Yondu’s toy was good looking, but nobody wanted him, they wanted Starlord.

As an aside, it doesn’t seem to be the first time Disney has struggled with merchandise supply. Following the initial success of Frozen, there was a worldwide shortage of Elsa and Anna dolls (but especially Elsa), leading to crafty eBay sellers selling their own stock for vastly inflated prices.

As well as this, there were issues with what players wanted from the game. When players bought toys, they unlocked characters and contained levels within that character’s world. There was also a main hub level called the Toybox, where all the characters could be used together, but the characters took on a toy style look.

A source that spoke to Kotaku commented that ‘The argument we kept getting from gamers was that “We want to play as Elsa running through Tatooine”’. As any gamer or Disney fan could tell you, being able to mix and match characters and levels would have been incredibly fun to play, but Disney came across complications. As they manage several licenses, such as Star Wars and Marvel, it would have been too difficult to put them in each other’s worlds. Some have found that hard to believe, considering Disney own all of these licenses, so have pondered whether a company with such a tight grip on its image would have wanted to see Merida shooting arrows around Hoth, or Luke Skywalker swinging a lightsaber around Arendelle.

Whatever the reasons for it’s demise, there’s some toys that fans won’t get to see. The final sets to be released will be the Alice Through the Looking Glass set, and the Finding Dory set, both due this June. Scrapped plans included a Star Wars: Rogue One set, and the poll winning Peter Pan set.

Now Disney Infinity is out of the running, we wonder what the other toy to life franchises will respond. Will they start muscling in to fill the gap they left behind, or will a new contender emerge?

Snapchat in Hot Water over Dangerous, Offensive and Copycat ‘Lenses’

Over the last few weeks, it’s safe to say that Snapchat doesn’t seem to have had a good time of it. Three different stories have come out about the controversy that their ‘lenses’, filters that can be put over any photo a user takes using the app, have stirred up.

Two stories revolve around the limited edition lenses that lets users project an image over their own face in selfies. On the 20th April, the company released a filter that allowed users to paste the face of singer Bob Marley over their own. Users were quick to condemn the move as racism, with Twitter user @QMVIA asking: ‘How many more times will racism be brushed off for entertainment or amusement?’ It was also pointed out that releasing the lens on April 20th, a date popularly associated with the use of marijuana, was particularly tasteless.

Then, earlier this month, another lens was added that let users project a multi coloured, geometric pattern onto their face. It was popular at first, until several different people online began pointing out that it looked a lot like their own artwork. However, most users said that the lens looked almost identical to independent artist Alexander Khokhlov’s work from his ‘2D or not 2D’ series, where he painted a model’s face in several different designs. One of his works is almost identical to the Snapchat lens, down to the colour pattern and shapes used.

Khokhlov's work is on the left, the Snapchat filter is on the right.

Khokhlov’s work is on the left, the Snapchat filter is on the right.

Snapchat never admitted to using Khokhlov’s work without his permission or payment, but the lens was quickly removed due to the similarity.

Finally, the most serious story to come from Snapchat: one teenager’s dangerous use of the speed lens. Most Snapchat users know that there’s a filter that tracks how fast the user was going at the time of the picture. Georgia, USA teenager Christal McGee was using Snapchat while driving her car as she was trying to get to 100 miles per hour. As she did so, she crashed into Uber driver Wentworth Maynard, who suffered critical injuries and now needs constant care. His family is now suing McGee and Snapchat itself. They argue that Snapchat should have known that putting such a lens in users’ hands meant that they were intentionally putting people in danger.

While the face lens were certainly ill thought out, and offensive at worst, the car crash between McGee and Maynard is arguably not Snapchat’s fault, as most responsible drivers know their phone should not be in their hand while driving. However, it does raise questions about how they run the app itself. Did they know that they were using someone else’s artwork, or potentially being offensive? Either way, they’ll have to step carefully in the coming months to ensure their name isn’t synonymous with controversy again.

MyMagic+: How Walt Disney World is Taking Theme Parks to the Next Level

Any mobile phone owner will be well aware of how your device is slowly taking the place of many of the gadgets in your life. It’s already your torch, your GPS, and increasingly, your method of payment in certain shops. If you want to see this concept taken to the extreme, take a trip to Walt Disney World to check out what they’re doing with their app.

On a recent trip to the Floridian branch of the Disney Parks empire, we found that the Disney MyMagic+ system had been implemented across all of the Walt Disney World attractions when we were handed our tickets. ‘Download our app, there’s free wifi, it’ll link up with your passes and you’ll find it helpful’ said the lady at the counter. Waiting in line to take the ferry to the Magic Kingdom, we downloaded it and quickly discovered how much we could do with it.

The app, My Disney Experience, has replaced the traditional paper park map when you’re visiting their theme parks. An interactive map on the app shows you where you are in relation to everything else, and lets you look up nearby attractions and plan where you want to go next. Taking things one step further, you can look up all current ride times (a feature we found to be more accurate than the ride times listed at every attraction entry point), and see where all the character meet and greets will be. You could even book your three allotted Fastpasses with it, meaning that you could skip the line for some of the most popular rides in the parks.

Your ticket, which takes the form of a plastic card, is your ticket in, your Fastpass for any rides you choose to use it for, and your photopass. Present your card at any character greet or end of ride photo booth, and your photo is instantly sent to your myDisney account, bypassing the lines to buy your picture, or awkwardly asking ‘Cast Members’ to take photos on your phone. This is great when your photos turn out more like this:

13006585_10150654236944978_8297959060460165438_n

Than this (honestly, any photos taken by Universal Parks staff seemed to come out blurry):

13087674_10150654491094978_65560381797089104_n

Taking the technology one step further, annual passholders and Disney hotel guests can use the MagicBand. This is a version of the card that you wear around your wrist, and allows for more freedom around the parks. It will unlock your hotel room door, and allows you to charge food and gifts to your room, helpful if you don’t want to carry cash. You can even buy limited edition or fun versions on park, for an extra fee of course.

This system has created a much more seamless experience for park guests, but is an absolute goldmine of information for Disney themselves. Guests sign up for their service and hand over reams of information about their likes and dislikes. At any point, it can be pinpointed exactly where guests are in the park, and which attractions are the most popular. The system has only been in place since 2013, but thanks to the required use of the entry cards, Disney will no doubt have a huge mine of information already at their fingertips. The only question now is how will they improve the parks based on this info, and will they spread the MyMagic+ system to their other parks across the globe?

(And finally, a quick tip: Get the app, and book your Fastpasses before you go to the park. We were wondering why all the Fastpasses to meet Anna and Elsa from Frozen were gone before the Magic Kingdom was even open, and that’s how we discovered you could book them from the app itself!).

The Atari ET Cartridge Burial: From Myth to History

This post originally appeared on Dojit.com on May 23rd, 2014.

As with the tales of the Madden curse and government experiments conducted through Polybius machines, it was easy to dismiss the tales of thousands of ET Atari 2600 cartridges buried in the desert as another urban myth. In a bizarre twist of fate however, the games were recently dug up in Alamogordo, New Mexico, as part of a documentary titled ‘Atari: Game Over’.

ET The Extraterrestrial has long held the title of world’s worst game. The deal was made in late 1982 for a game based on the blockbuster movie, leaving the programmer only five weeks, instead of the usual six months, to create the title from scratch. The result was a buggy, rushed, and downright dull game that faced critical backlash. Thousands of copies were returned to Atari by disgruntled gamers, leaving them with a huge stockpile of games that they knew they would never be able to sell. The only option, then, was to bury the whole lot in the desert, even pouring concrete into the hole to ensure no one could remove them.

The game was blamed, in part, for the video game crash of 1983. At this time, gaming was still seen as something of a novelty, rather than an actual hobby or interest. The market was flooded with consoles and games, with everybody from Atari to Purina, the pet food company, creating new titles and releasing them into that market. A lack of originality and some high profile failures, such as ET, lead to the demise of Atari and others. It was predicted that this would be the end of gaming as an industry, until the NES was released by Nintendo in 1985 in the US.

With the failure of ET and the video game crash, Atari as it was known ceased to exist after a buyout by Jack Tramiel in 1984. The stockpile was buried in the desert landfill and mostly forgotten about, eventually becoming a popularly shared myth within the gaming community. However, earlier this year Microsoft decided to investigate the story as part of their six part documentary series, ‘Signal to Noise’, designed exclusively for the Xbox One console. The series promises to investigate how technology has impacted upon the modern world.

The documentary makers had been tipped off that the cartridges were indeed languishing in the landfill, thanks to records kept by journalists at the time. Thanks to these records, the location of the landfill could be located and the cartridges could be dug up.

Executive producer Jonathan Chinn explained in an interview that not only did they find many copies of ET, but copies of othergames, such as Centipede, Space Invaders and Asteroids. Even Atari hardware was found, with a 2600 joystick being the first item unearthed in the dig. Some copies of ET from the dig, almost inevitable, found their way to eBay, but were quickly unlisted.

Some writers have wondered aloud why the documentary makers are bothering to dig up some really bad games that are arguably better left in the ground. However, others have described the find as ‘historic’ for the gaming industry. The Guardian notes that the industry is still in its infancy, so will be marginalised and trivialised. Gamers in fifty years time will want to know about this event, and with the city possibly placing these games in museums, will actually be able to see the artefacts for themselves. It’s enough to make any gamer wonder what else will be considered important enough to become gaming history in the future.

What Can A Loyalty App Do That a Card Can’t?

Loyal Starbucks customers will no doubt use the coffee chain’s app, which gives them free rewards in return for them buying their daily coffee from them. Recently, the company revealed their overhaul of the app in order to personalise the experience for their customers. Now, they will receive ‘stars’ depending on how much they spend in the store, rather than how many times they visit their local store. Starbucks have received some backlash over the move, as those who regularly use the app say they will now have to pay much more in order to gain their free rewards.

The backlash isn’t great for Starbucks, but it does illustrate just how important loyalty apps are for some customers. Companies that encourage repeat, frequent business, such as coffee chains, have been creating loyalty apps to replace loyalty cards that have traditionally been used. Is it worth it to design a whole app when maybe just a card would do?

Possibly. With a loyalty card, you can only really give one kind of reward. Collecting stamps on a piece of paper is exciting at first, but the thrill wears off quickly, possibly taking your customers with it. An app shows the customer just how far away they are to reaching their reward, and incentivises them further to come shop with you.  Also, a card is easily lost when dropped out of a pocket, or swimming around in the bottom of a handbag. An app is always reachable as it’s on your phone.

An app can also offer greater interaction with your customers. A card can’t track your customers’ spending habits, or where they’re making purchases. It’s quite simple to actually harvest a lot of data using just a loyalty app.

One of the best features of loyalty apps is that you can personalise and localise rewards. Perhaps you want to send an offer to your customers in a certain city, with an app it’s easy to send out that offer just to those customers. It can also track multiple offers at once, meaning it’s a lot more versatile than a card.

More and more companies are finding that loyalty apps are increasing the footfall into their shops. Some, like Starbucks, have taken it one step further by allowing customers to place orders and pay for items directly through their phone. Slowly, apps are revolutionising the way we shop.

There are downsides, however. As seen above, if you maintain a strong loyalty base with your app, customers may be upset when you make changes. This means you’ll have to think carefully when designing the app, to make sure you won’t have to make major changes somewhere down the line. Also, design of the app is key. If an app is poorly designed or hard to use, you’re not going to keep customers interested.

 

All in all, companies have seen a real boost in business with their loyalty apps. They’re changing the way many stores do business, and with designers tinkering with them all the time, it’s going to be exciting to see what innovations we’ll see in the near future.

Why Have Reddit Finally Released Their Own App?

As you may remember, Reddit has never had it’s own official app. Third party apps are widespread on the iOS and Google Play stores, and in 2014, Reddit acquired one of the most popular apps, Alien Blue. This became the ‘official’ Reddit app until now, as Reddit have finally released their own, first party app for their users.

So, why now? Alex Le, Reddit’s vice president of consumer product, explained that it came about after the company examined how their readers accessed the site. He said that 50% of their users were reading on mobile, and many were searching the app stores for an app called ‘Reddit’. After asking users what could improve their mobile experience, the company decided that instead of making improvements to their existing app, it would be better to make their own from scratch.

Their decision appears to have paid off, as the Reddit app has so far been a roaring success in terms of usage. The day after it’s release, it reached the top of the iOS charts, beating out Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. Downloads have probably been helped by the fact that Reddit offered it’s Alien Blue Pro users free 4 year Reddit Gold subscriptions.

Feedback so far has been mostly positive, with most saying that they’re enjoying the new features, such as the ‘speed read’ feature that lets you skip through a thread to find the highlights, and a night mode, which changes the display colours to reduce glare while reading late at night. Tech Times collects some of the early adopters comments, who say that the design is clean and easy to use, although there are many bugs and small issues that need to be addressed in future updates.

Even with this positive feedback, it still seems rather strange that Reddit would pour so much effort into a brand new app, when Alien Blue was still a popular and serviceable app for the company. With so many users on mobile, it makes sense that Reddit will want to capitalise on this, and set up ad revenue streams through an app they can control.

This app comes at a time when Reddit is looking to become more user friendly and safe, following the revelation of the abuse that occurs on the site after chief executive Ellen Pao resigned. In light of this, Reddit have implemented stronger blocking tools, allowing users to block individual users if they feel harassed or threatened by them. This, as well as the new app, is clearly aimed at making Reddit much more accessible and safer space for everyone who uses it. Only time will tell if uses stay with the Reddit app or gravitate back to Alien Blue, although the implementation of new and improved features on the Reddit app will affect this.

Meet the Disabled Gamers Who Are Playing Their Own Way

As a child reading the Official Playstation Magazine, I had my first encounter with disabled gaming in the letters pages. The details are fuzzy now, but a letter writer talked about a specialist controller he used that let him control games with only one hand, but sadly it didn’t work with all games. Luckily, he lived near an understanding game store (remember them?), who’d let him return games if they didn’t work with it. I remember wondering how on earth people with disabilities could play the games I enjoyed, if they had limitations that stopped them enjoying them fully.

I’m reminded of this encounter as the stories of disabled gamers are now spreading across the internet. A legally blind gamer named Sightless Kombat is one of the top ranked Mortal Kombat players in the world. Alex Nawabi, an employee at Sony, created a special controller just for Playstation fan Peter Byrne, so his cerebral palsy won’t get in the way of his gaming. There are several charities set up that help people with disabilities access gaming, such as Special Effects and the AbleGamers charities. The net appears to allow gamers with disabilities to find each other, create a community, and share tips on how to play games together.

The homepage of the internet, Reddit, even has a Disabled Gamers page. Members share tips, create specialist groups for the favourite multiplayer games, and share interesting gaming news that may be useful to others in the community. Even 20 years ago, it’s hard to imagine somewhere like this, where disabled gameres could go and meet others like them.

Sadly, though, the internet isn’t always a friendly place for disabled gamers. In an interview with IGN, Robert Kingett describes how others are often quick to jump on him in multiplayer games. ‘I do have a stutter’, he says, ‘and people who want to be gamers are quick to point out that I sound “retarded” or “like I am disabled”.’ He also describes how many people simply assume disabled gamers won’t be any good at a particular games, or that they won’t enjoy them.

Like everything in life, though, most people with disabilities can enjoy gaming just as much as non disabled people, though often in a different way. Advances in technology mean that there’s more options now for disabled gamers. Text to speech, eye control systems and modified controllers are just the tip of the iceberg.

Some gamers develop their own ways of enjoying games without any other equipment. Sightless Kombat describes how he uses the game’s sounds to detect cues, as well as watching Youtube videos to learn about the mechanics and game guides to learn more about how to play it.

It’s clear that disability is becoming a more and more limited barrier towards gaming. With charities providing equipment, and communities popping up online dedicated to helping each other out, more and more people can enjoy gaming to it’s fullest. With technology still advancing at a rate of knots, who knows what equipment will be available in the next ten years? I hope the guy who wrote into Official Playstation Magazine all those years ago was able to take advantage of it.

Miitomo Launch: What Should We Expect?

Remember way back in November, when Nintendo announced their first foray into mobile gaming? That game, Miitomo, is finally launched in Western markets yesterday, after it’s already seen a successful launch in Japan last week.

The game is seen as quite an apparent move to steal some of Facebook and other social media apps’ thunder, as it works more like a social media site than an actual game. Users create their own Mii, last seen on the Nintendo Wii and subsequent consoles, and interact with other app users using that avatar. The game is free to download, but some items require real money to buy into your game.

So, how did the app fare in Japan? By all accounts, it seems to have done quite well. Commentators in the country have noted it’s marked similarity to another popular Asian social app, Line. Line uses monetization by having users buy stickers and emojis to communicate with other users, and Miitomo has built on that by giving users the option to buy special content for their Miis, such as t shirts or accessories.

The Verge noted that Miitomo is using simple text analysis to create animations within the app. The example used was of the writer talking about Korean food, and when their friend commented ‘I love Korean food!’, her Mii licked her lips. It’s an interesting little touch that sounds as though it’ll add to the overall friendliness of the app.

The new Nintendo rewards program, My Nintendo, launched on the same day in Japan, and players can now earn points for playing Miitomo and other Nintendo titles. These points can be exchanged for money off other games, or other similar perks, giving players a strong incentive to keep engaged with the app. This is quite a novel way of keeping an app relevant, and no doubt other app developers will be watching to see if Miitomo holds onto it’s current number of active users, and will be wondering whether they can use a similar system themselves.

Overall, comparisons have been drawn to mega popular Nintendo series Animal Crossing, where players are encouraged to dress up their avatars and share their experiences with others. For anyone who enjoys those games, Miitomo sounds as though it will be just as enjoyable. Others, though, who still don’t quite see the point of the app, have yet to be convinced. If you’ve tried the app out today, let us know what you think. Has it lived up to the hype?

Jim Sterling vs. Digital Homicide

You may not know the name Digital Homicide, but you’re soon to become very familiar with it. It’s the name of an indie development company that have created several titles, that are questionable at best. They’ve hit the headlines as they have served gaming journalist Jim Sterling with a lawsuit suing him for up to $10 million.

Why? Well, it’s a long and convoluted story, but the short version is this: on his Youtube channel, Sterling reviews random games, often from Steam’s Greenlight selection. One particular game, Slaughtering Grounds, received a rather damning review from Sterling when he tried it out. Unhappy with the criticism, Digital Homicide argued back with Sterling, posting their own videos mocking his review, and even issuing takedowns of his other videos.

This back and forth has been going on since 2014, and it culminated in this lawsuit that accuses Sterling of ‘assault, libel and slander.’ Pretty heavy things to be laying at the feet of a critic who just doesn’t like your games.

It’s unclear yet how successful this case will be, but it seems Digital Homicide are very serious about it. They’re currently representing themselves, and are asking for donations on their GoFundMe page in order to pay for the proceedings. Sterling, on the other hand, has taken a very calm view of the case, refusing to speak to press about it other than saying he’s ‘dealing with it.’

This case does highlight how gaming journalism has changed in the age of Youtube. Before, if you made a game that was generally considered subpar, you may receive a few scathing reviews in magazines and in articles online, but that would be the extent of it. On Youtube though, clicks are king. To get more views, you need to be funny, entertaining and memorable. To do that, many Youtubers are turning to ‘shovelware’ games in order to keep bringing viewers in.

Digital Homicide’s argument is that Sterling has a large and dedicated fanbase, and that by ripping their games apart in his videos, he’s being unnecessarily cruel about their work, resulting in lower sales for them. While it’s true that Sterling is known for not mincing his words, one has to wonder whether by playing titles such as Slaughtering Grounds, he’s actually spreading the word about them? Is the old saying ‘any publicity is good publicity’ true in this case?

It’s hard to say in this instance, because Digital Homicide haven’t exactly taken a measured view of Sterling’s comments. When does criticism turn into slander, as they have suggested? It seems that they feel Sterling is looking to sabotage them, and stop them from making more games by muddying their name online. However, Sterling has other targets than this one game development company, and the company themselves have insisted on takedowns and public apologies, tarnishing their own public image in the process.

This has implications for gaming journalism as a whole if it goes to court. If Digital Homicide win, that means that all reviews will be using copyrighted material, and so poor reviews will devalue the work. As Nintendo Enthusiast asks, does that mean that all negative reviews will have to be deleted, or banned? Will there be a gag on negative reviews on Youtube?

It’s almost certain it won’t come to that, but this case does raise some thorny legal issues. At time of writing, nothing else has come of the case, but if it does we could see some changes to gaming journalism as a whole.