Broadcast Yourself

youtube_logoYou Tube is all the rage when it comes to viewing online videos, many of which are submitted by independent artists and individuals. Going live in February, 2005 I never really used the service or uploaded material to be viewed my by myself or others. Within the last few years it seems You Tube has truly taken off, recently purchased by Google, the video service is thriving. Broadcast yourself!

As an 8 year old  1976, we had no such service, the VHS would come to American on June 4 the following year. Televisions was limited to a handful of channels and movies were viewed in theaters.

These days mobile devices reign supreme, online retailers and cable companies seem to have cornered the market when it comes to videos and movies. You can watch the newest releases in the palm of your hand or your favorite television show you recorded last night on your tablet.

Technology has truly moved us in a new direction when it comes to video. These days You Tube seems to be all the rage. When it comes to the latest viral video or something trending, chances are You Tube has it captured. Every form of media seems to have a channel, from news outlets to magazines and papers, to businesses if you can record it, You Tube can capture it.

In 1999, on the verge of Y2K, not know what was going to happen to digital (computer-related) and non-digital documentation and data storage situations, I was deep into PC gaming. It wasn’t long after my indoctrination to PC gaming I got involved in shoutcasting, taking a position as a caster, covering live, online gaming from Urban Terror to Medal of Honor and hosting my own shows, Urban Radio and the 80s revival show, Just Push Play. I also ventured into live video casting.

I toyed around with live video coverage, which the respective communities loved! It took casting to a new level, one that had rarely been seen outside of being involved in the game itself. Unfortunately, true video coverage took more hardware, power and Internet connection than I had at the time. The majority of my coverage was done strictly as audio, which for the time was still pretty impressive.

These days I am in awe at You Tube personalities and the show they produce. My knowledge is quite limited and I am sure my son knows much more about them than I do. He’s 9 years old. It has gotten to the point that I find myself watching some of the shows he has going on You Tube. Stampylongnose, Dan of The Diamond Minecart and You Always Win featuring GUNNS4HIRE and meatwagon2 are just three of the channels he has saved as favorites.

While my idols growing up usually played in the NFL and MLB, these days it’s not uncommon to see kids idolize these personalities on You Tube. I must admit these three channels are good fun. Stampy and Dan provide fun and entertainment for all ages, while Gunns and Meatwagon usually play some ‘MA’ games their humor is probably geared toward a rated ‘T’ (for Teen) audience. Yet, I have no problem with my son watching any of these You Tubers.

My son, again age 9, has asked for the last few months for, “my own You Tube channel.” He has recorded some videos on his iPad and toy video camera, but to date, nothing has been shared outside of our family. His schoolmate, Taylor has recorded some short, corny videos that he made available on You Tube, which only spurred more comments of “Dad, when can I get my own You Tube channel?”

I have been highly impressed to see him experimenting with playing his games while providing a running commentary on what he’s doing. Who knows, maybe he will be the next Stampy Cat with 5 million subscribers! I do think it’s great to see him interested in this sort of technology as consoles, mobile devices and PC allow users much more flexibility and ease of use to get content shared and viewed online.



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Minecraft: Education Value?

minecraftIt’s been nearly 5 years since leaving any sort of online gaming community. After 10 years of involvement and development in the Quake III Arena mod, Urban Terror, I had lost the desire to put forth any further effort or deal with frustration that continued to build. It was a refreshing decision, as I look back and wonder where those 10 years of my life went and just how drawn in I was to this community I had helped build.

Now that I have a 7 year old son, he has been introduced to online gaming in a “trial by fire” period playing the XBox 360 game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. I won’t get into the violence aspect which centers around killing others, especially for kids of his age. I will save that bloviating for another time. When I was his age, we didn’t have online anything, games were played on consoles, like Atari or even the older Sears Pong console.

Regardless of which way you lean when it comes to video games, it can be argued there is an educational value and skills that can be learned and sharpened by playing video games. Take for example the countless hours I spent typing on our old Apple computer, coding games from magazines. I am a self taught typist who can easily out out 60 words a minute! What a great skill to have mastered at a younger age, when typing class was an elective in junior high.

Not sure my son would find the games I played back in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s very exciting but it appears as if things might be coming full circle with the recent interest I have taken in the game Minecraft by Mojang, an indie game developer out of Stockholm, Sweden. Initially released November 2011, I did not play the game until last week when my son and I downloaded the Xbox360 version for $19.99 (1600 points).

Touted as the “21st century online Legos that you can play with your friends”minecraft2 by The Minecraft Teacher, Joel Levin. I have been drawn to this game like very few others in the past. The concept of the game is very simple. “The game involves players creating and destroying various types of blocks in a three-dimensional environment. The player takes on an avatar that can destroy or create blocks, forming fantastic structures, creations, and artwork, on multiplayer servers and singleplayer worlds across multiple game modes.

For me, last Tuesday I spent 7 hours straight playing this damn game with my son. I was not trying to solve puzzles or level up or complete missions. I was mining blocks and exploring caves. My son was build structures, learning how to use the crafting table and helping me as we wasted time on the couch. It’s been many years since a game, especially one like Minecraft has caught my attention and reeled me in.

I have been more interested about how Joel Levin has incorporated Minecraft into a learning environment where students benefit from game based education. In a generic letter for parents he stresses, “through this experience, we’ll be exploring the basics of design, planning, spatial reasoning, teamwork and leadership in a way that will engage higher-order thinking skills, all while playing in an immersive game world.” You can read some real world examples of how Minecraft is used in an educational setting.

While I am not an educator, it would be interesting to see how this program, once implemented would work for kids in his elementary school. Right now in his class the teacher has been introducing the kids to geometry! What better way to show 2D vs 3D than using a computer game where you can build and explore 3D shapes!

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Games Developers Play

It’s rare I speak about the electronic entertainment industry since retiring from any sort of online game development or online game, I’ve also given up supporting many companies, such as Microsoft who still cannot get the XBox 360 right. In my tenure working on an amateur development team and rubbing elbows with some well known companies like id Software, Activision, Ravensoft and others I have lost some respect I once held for some of these professional development houses.

Since moving on from Urban Terror I have yet to spend any money on another PC game, nor have I built a new computer to support these high end fandango games that only seem to be getting prettier than anything else. I can’t speak for their game play, but after nearly 10 years of development on Urban Terror it became quite apparent that game play would always trump graphics. As we have seen in the past and will continue to see in the future, graphics will continue to sell games, not game play. Even games that should have never made it to retail will end up being found on retail shelves and not long after in the bargain bin.

Unfortunately many game developers continue to recycle their “franchise” products. This in my opinion is not what development is about. I feel that many companies seem to have lost that creative drive that bought us many unique and enjoyable games back in the day, DICE and their Battlefield series is one of the most popular. Another example is Call of Duty from Grey Matter Interactive/Activision. Both of these developers have been taking their series to the next level, but how is the game play? I believe as a franchise ages it can become chocked full of so many features that it actually detract from game play. I still feel Codename: Eagle was a solid game from DICE. Simple, yet enjoyable on a LAN.

Recently with the release Portal 2 by Valve (alleged) fans seem to do nothing but trash talk the game. This is typical of supporters to whine, “while hundreds of negative summaries complaining about unbelievably inane shit (source). This just goes to show even professional designers can’t get things right and fans continue to shell out their money for games and feel they are deserved something in return.

I do agree with what is stated in this article on Destructoid, “Of course, the people whining would still buy <insert game here> and everything else <insert company here> puts out without a second thought. No wonder they whine so hard — it must be difficult being such spineless, dickless chumps.” This was ALWAYS the case with Urban Terror development and all those chumps didn’t have to pay to play. It’s no wonder I got out of gaming.

Development houses will continue to develop games. While the actual retail market is undergoing a change, with boxed software slowly giving way to downloadable software, the quality of games continue to improve. I believe this is a trend that will continue to rise for years to come. Franchises will continue to spin new iterations and gamers will continue to overpay for under-developed software.

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Wii Dare: Garbage!

What sort of crap is the electronic entertainment industry trying to pull on the consumer now? I guess I should know better after playing games from 1995-2008 and participating on an amateur development team for nearly 10 years. There are two features that sell games. Sex and blood. Much like the media, “if it bleeds it leads.”

Just what am I talking about? The game is developed by Ubisoft, who has some hits in the past on all gaming platform. Recent development of game called Dare for the Nintendo Wii (and PlayStation 3). What’s worse, it’s currently tagged as a 12+ game. Now look further into the game, better yet watch the trailer before reading further.

Now as I parent, I am somewhat appalled at the game with it’s “12+” rating. First, I would not purchase this for my son, nor would I expect him to play it any younger than 16 or 17 years old. Now the games is described as a, “a sexy, quirky party game that offers a large variety of hilarious, innovative and physical, sometimes kinky, challenges.’ Hmm, doesn’t sound something I would want my 12 year old playing.

What is even somewhat more surprising, the fact Nintendo has licensed it for release on their Wii. Nintendo does market with the “family” in mind, as parents look to connect with their children. I guess my generation, having grown up with video games have it a bit easier than my parents, since they were already in their late 30’s, early 40’s when personal computers and gaming consoles were developed.

I guess the Wii controller can now double as a working vibrator when connected to the WiiMotion Plus sleeve. I have read one parent’s comment that it is “harmless fun” and that it’s “just an updated version of spin the bottle.” I still find the game inappropriate for the rumored age group. The gaming site, 1Up reports the ERSB rating is pending.

I guess in a down economy it’s really no surprise at the amount of garbage that is being sold as “electronic entertainment” for both the PC and console market. As I said in the introduction, sex and blood sell, so it’s really no surprise that Ubisoft is attempting to make a quick buck off Dare. That, I don’t find surprising.

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Urban Terror: Close the Door

Since leaving the development team and Urban Terror, nearly 2 years ago I have yet to return to online gaming. The motivations for my departure and retirement were purely personal. For me, I had gone as far as I could with development as it was quite clear the game would never flourish as I had hoped for during the early years.

It’s quite rare I even bring the name, Urban Terror up because it’s a part of my past and I have moved on, leaving the community, the web sites and activities to others in order to cultivate. I still have an informal tie to the community as I continue to hold the rights to the domain name.

I happened upon a conversation today with an individual who is still around the community and as I understand it, the community and the game are not the same. I can’t speak to that, but can only surmise the problems plaguing the community/game now. While I never had a direct hand in any development, it was the community who drove the game to the success it had upon my departure.

Of course the development team was at the core of the community, with talented individuals leaving their mark and moving on. The early years were truly the “best of times” for me personally. Being courted by id Software, visiting their offices, participating in Quakecon, jet setting to Los Angeles for E3, being featured on Tech TV are just some of the highlights I take with me. Of course those days are all in the past and rarely do I even cast a glance at the newest PC games on the market because it’s “more of the same.”

With that said, there is still something to say about those individuals who continue to support the game after so many years. I have a few individuals in mind who, through thick and thin stuck it out with the development team. Not sure if I were on the outside looking in, like I was with Action Quake II if I could have continued for nearly 10 years even with a game I enjoyed

Being in the rare position I was, between the community and the game I had a unique perspective and seemed to get opinions from everyone. For many, I was the voice/face/name of Urban Terror, but never did I attempt to take credit. While I was involved, I left the real development/design to the talented individuals that knew how to code a feature, or create a model, uvwrap it and skin it. I was highly impressed with those who were level designers, but that was not my calling.
Unfortunately, it was “never quite good enough” for some. The worst place to be the day of a point release was on the community support forums. This was my domain, a place I controlled and supported and nurtured from the beginning. It was a unique feeling creating a community from virtually nothing to a strong community of supporters we had when I departed. I was amazed at the success and the ride I had been privy to.

Maybe my departure gave rise to someone with new ideas and new blood to bring something into the community to improve the game. While some may disagree I took a lot with me the day I left. Much of the unwritten history left with me. Many gigabytes of files continue to reside on my archived hard drives that will most likely never be accessed again.

Most of all I remember the people, behind every alias, either in game, via e-mail or on IRC there is a person. I was fortunate enough to meet a small percentage of these people over the years. The strongest bonds were between the long standing development team members. The same can be said for the long time supporters in the community, the people I entrusted files or hosting to. There were some great people behind the scenes who rarely got a mention. Maybe they hosted files or ran a web site or always put in a word of praise to the community, game or development team. While I will probably never communicate with these individuals again, they were a special part of the community and one of the things I held close though out my tenure.

Often times I was referred to as, “not a developer” because I did not provide any content for the game. While that is a true statement, it could not be further from the truth. I was a development team member and played an integral role that was often overlooked. Many individuals involved couldn’t or wouldn’t do what I did over the course of 10 years. While not the most important aspect of the game or community, I brought Urban Terror to life though the use of shoutcasting, when online gaming radio stations were still in their infancy.

My use of the radio medium introduced a new dimension to online gaming that was rarely seen previously. I attempted to stress the importance of the community, wanting feedback and information from supporters in order to strengthen the radio show on a weekly basis. By far, the most important portion of the show, aside from my bad, 80’s music was the development team update. This was sometimes a futile attempt to provide up to the minute information about development.

The second part of this new medium was acting as a commentator during online matches. I spent many hours a week dedicated to my radio shows and broadcasts. It would have been enough to just cover the match, but our community was something special and they deserved more. I had a pre and post game report, as well as commentary and sometimes guest casters on air.

This, to me was my calling for the game and it went a long way in the community. Yet some failed to see the connection. In the end I was burned out, tired. Maybe it was the years of abuse I took never really striking back or going off, unless completely necessary. A few examples spring to mind. When I initially got involved I wanted to see this development through to a defined end. For me, that will never happen as I dropped everything in a blink of an eye and walked away, never to return.

But, as I said early on the friendships you make will last a lifetime. The memories remain, but may fade as years go by. For the most part these were good times, never great, but good enough to keep you going for just a bit longer. Hopefully those involved now have an idea of where the game came from and of those who came before.

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