SCEA Top Ten Items (By Units Sold) For March, With Consumer Trend Analysis

Information courtesy of GlassWalls, SCEA Home Community Specialist; commentary provided by NorseGamer, HSM Editor-in-Chief

At the beginning of 2012, I predicted that this year would be remembered as the “Year of the Game.”

I have no particular gift for prognostication, but it seemed like a fairly obvious and logical conclusion to draw. Home’s shifting towards being more of a gaming platform, and for very sound business reasons. And the timing is spot on, too: how many personal estates can you own? How much clothing can even a prominent cross-dressing fashionista possibly want? But if there’s one thing that Mass Media proved, as soon as Midway entered the picture, it’s that gaming tokens offer a remarkable source of long-term revenue.

What we’ve seen, just with the first quarter of 2012, is a remarkable dominance of freemium gaming microtransactions. Here’s what happened in March:

#1)         Digital Leisure Inc.                                        500 Chips 
#2)         Lockwood Publishing                                    Lockwood Token Pack – 80 
#3)         Mass Media Inc.                                             The Green Ticket 
#4)         Lockwood Publishing                                    Lockwood Token Pack – 480 
#5)         Sony Computer Entertainment America        Freestyle Dancefloor 
#6)         Sony Computer Entertainment America        The Stick Up Kid Gold Guns & Tie 
#7)         Digital Leisure Inc.                                        5,000 Chips 
#8)         Digital Leisure Inc.                                        Old West Saloon 
#9)         Sony Computer Entertainment America        The Stick Up Kid Gangster Skinny Jeans 
#10)        Sony Computer Entertainment America       Check Black Shirt and Tattoo (Male)

So — let’s dig into this and see what consumer trends we can divine.

1. Digital Leisure once again holds the top spot, and indeed takes up three spots on this list, with commodities somehow related to gaming. Keep in mind that this developer offers you a free weekly stipend of chips to enjoy, which may be a better incentive to try the games as opposed to Mass Media’s strategy of offering intermittent free-play windows. Think about it: if there’s a particular game you really want to try out for free at Midway, you have to wait for it to open up at a free-play window — and gamers are an impatient, truculent lot. Whereas with the Casino, you’re free to blow your stipend as fast as you want on any game of your choosing, without having to wait. This may be more conducive to getting people to spend money at a faster rate.

2. The only personal estate on this list is Digital Leisure’s Old West Saloon. And to an extent, this makes sense: I’m struggling to think of any other really superlative, knock-your-socks-off estates that have been released since the beginning of this year. And I’m sorry, but SCEA’s 2012 estate offerings so far have been as exciting as watching my ex-wife recovering from anaesthesia. You know the beauty is there, and you’re waiting patiently with genuine concern, but you really want to get back to the bikini and games. And Digital Leisure’s Saloon brought the games, along with background music and a setting that’s more than just one big box. Hopefully the Saloon’s sales, in a marketplace flooded with personal estates, will encourage developers to continue to innovate with what an estate does and is.

3. Lockwood Gift Machine tokens chew up two slots on this list. Is anyone really surprised at this point? The Lockwood Gift Machine has been an absolute smash hit since it started, and it capitalized on behavioral economics by giving people the ability to give gifts to each other. Sony has tried to copy this (rather badly) with the gifting feature in some of their recent estate offerings, but it astonishes me that no other developer in the last year has bothered to blatantly copycat Lockwood and open up their own gift machine. Look: it’s okay to copycat Lockwood. Companies copycat each other all the time (hell, even HSM isn’t immune to being copied and imitated). Just look at Apple’s influence on computers and tablets. When a successful product or innovation is introduced, it is natural for others to try to incorporate the most successful elements of it into their own business models. This is called competition, and it drives innovation. So will somebody please compete with Lockwood?

4. Mass Media is once again high up on the list with the Green Ticket. Big surprise there. Midway makes a strong case that really simple, easily-recognizable games with scaling difficulties and multiple rewards are a long-term cash cow in Home. Digital Leisure picked up on this formula, and it’s possible that Sony may be able to cash in on it with the new Cutthroats game.  The potential downside is that it may discourage much more intricate and detailed freemium games — Sodium2 and Novus Prime, for instance — from being developed in the future, as their for-purchase commodities don’t seem to sell in nearly the same quantities. This is something which I dread, and I hope won’t happen. So go buy more stuff from Lockwood and Hellfire Games, please.

5. Fifty percent of this list is taken up with freemium gaming microtransactions and gifting. Just wanted to point that out.

6. The Freestyle Dance Floor. Not only does it appear on this list, but it’s in the top half. And it’s easy to see why: it’s a cool personal estate item that combines the best elements of some of Lockwood’s similar commodities, but it also gives you a few of the catchy dance tracks from the Hub soundtrack. See, this is called innovation. And it pays off. Where it gets interesting, I think, is when LOOT introduces some of its forthcoming virtual commodities onto the Home scene, such as the portable EOD. My guess is that portable RadioIO is effectively going to kill most standalone music items in Home. It’s interesting, sometimes, how one commodity in Home can actually exert tremendous downward pressure on so many others — and I suspect that’s going to happen here.

Stick up kid. Now with “raging editor” emote.

7. The Stick Up Kid. I don’t get it. Please explain to me why it’s selling so well. The fact that the torso component sold better than the legs (and appears on the list for the second month in a row) leads me to believe that avatars want to run around with guns. Certainly, there’s been an increase in firearm hand items in Home, and given the makeup of Home’s active population (predominantly young and male), I suppose that’s not surprising. Speaking as someone who owns firearms in real life, though: guns aren’t toys, kids.

8. Same thing goes for the Check Black Shirt and Tattoo. Why is it performing so well? I’ll admit, I’m culturally out of my element on this one. Tattoos turn me off. My grandfather, an oak of man who led a very hard, blue-collar life, had a beautiful tattoo of a woman with long hair — except, when viewed from a different angle, it became a flaming skull. It was a work of art. And when I asked him about it as a small boy, he smiled slightly and said, “You have to be exceedingly young and exceedingly stupid to get one.” Now, hey, I’m no prude, but our culture is going bugnuts with tattoos. As (I believe) Jon Stewart once asked, “Have we as a culture become so collectively bored that we’ve begun drawing on ourselves?” I live on a tropical island, so I see barely clothed bodies on a regular basis, and trust me — tattoos everywhere are not attractive.

Dudes.

9. There are no female clothing items on this list. None. At all. Huzzah! Is there just nothing appealing for actual women in Home recently, or have the (semi-)secret crossdressers decided to tone it down a notch? Or, since there are more freemium gaming options now available in Home, is the discretionary spending going towards gaming instead? I mean, guys love gaming. Possibly even more than women’s clothing.

10. How will Cutthroats affect the April list, I wonder? It’s a freemium game, and like Casino chips and Midway tickets, its coins aren’t a permanent resource which can be acquired once for a set price and then used indefinitely. I actually do wonder if the higher prices for Cutthroats’ coins will be a deterrent; there’s one value pack at the Cutthroats store which is fifty dollars, and I believe that’s currently the most expensive commodity you can purchase in Home right now. At those kinds of prices, gamers might want something permanent instead of renewable — infinite fireball cannon shot, for instance. I’ll be very curious to see if Cutthroats makes it onto the top-ten list next month.

Moving into the second quarter, what can we expect? Probably more of the same. More gaming microtransactions. Fewer estate sales. Value packs. Possibly the occasional bit of clothing. The real question is whether or not Home’s audience has dramatically changed in the last year, towards a gamer-heavy crowd, or whether it’s the same core group of spenders who have shifted from social purchases to gaming purchases. Either way, it appears that SCEA’s business strategy of shifting Home into more of a gaming platform is not just a successful venture, but indeed the correct course of action to have taken.

No Man’s Land: Total Recall — An Interview With Sony Pictures Entertainment

by NorseGamer, HSM Editor-in-Chief

If there’s one major lesson the internet age has taught us, it’s that consumers want to be deeply immersed in the IPs that entertain them. If you read a fantastic book, you want to see a fantastic movie based on it; then you want to play video games which allow you to be an active participant in it. And then you want to share that experience with your friends.

This is particularly true with the science-fiction, fantasy, action and adventure genres. They appeal to that most coveted demographic of young adult males, and inherently lend themselves to other forms of entertainment – such as video games – which can generate even greater revenue.

A perfect example of this is the new version of Total Recall, and its introduction to Sony PlayStation Home via the third-person shooter game from VEEMEE, No Man’s Land. While Home has offered major Hollywood tie-ins before – most recently, with Men In Black III – this is the first time that Home has ever offered a deep, player-versus-player game placed inside one of the key settings from a movie. We chatted with Sony Pictures to find out more about this.

HSM: Total Recall, of course, is a major A-list movie. What strategic benefit(s) does it serve to Sony Pictures to allow VEEMEE to recreate it in PlayStation Home?

SPE: Total Recall is a sci-fi action movie, a genre that translates naturally in the interactive environment.  We saw the partnership as a great way to reach the all important gamer audience which is close to the key demographic of the film itself.

Q: Take us through the development timeline. Which party initially proposed this idea, and how involved was Sony Pictures with the evolution of the game level in PlayStation Home?

A:  We started speaking with SCEE on how we could work together to develop a downloadable game for PSN.  As it happened, they were working with VEEMEE on NML.  Once we heard about the game, we collectively felt that the NML type of game play was perfectly suited for what felt was right for a film based game.

Q: Describe the process of working with the team at VEEMEE.

A: We wanted the game to be as close to the films look and feel as possible.  In order to ensure this, assets and direction were provided to VEEMEE.  VEEMEE understood the importance of staying true to the brand, and that is apparent when playing the Total Recall game.

Q: Owing to the greater synergy between mediums, are certain films like Total Recall consciously structured in such a way to better facilitate a gaming tie-in? Although the dramaturgical rules for proper storytelling govern how a film must unfold, was the film designed with gaming cross-pollination in mind? And, if not, what was the creative process to determine which aspects of the film, such as the setting, would be adapted for Sony virtual reality gaming?

A: The main goal of IP based video games is to extend the experience of the film into the users’ home.  When deciding upon what setting the game would take place in, we wanted to be sure people would feel immersed in the battle that was ensuing, that they were fighting in the Total Recall world themselves.   New Asia provides a very exciting scenario; it is set in the future with new technologies and plenty of opportunities for interactivity.

Q: Assuming that the Total Recall experience in PlayStation Home is financially successful – which seems very likely – is it safe to assume that Sony Pictures will continue to explore further such high-profile promotions inside PlayStation Home?

A:  Yes, we see this as a viable way to market our films along with reach gamers.  It also is a benefit to Sony overall; two areas of the company can come together to create something successful.

Q: Along similar lines, does Sony Pictures see video gaming as a useful tool for preview PR – namely, releasing game content which introduces audience members to the movie’s settings in an interactive way – prior to the film’s actual release?

A:  We see this as an extremely useful tool to help get the message out about a certain film.  Games are not only a fun way to introduce a films story and brand, but they are an important marketing tool that provide exposure and keep audience members involved.  Launching game content prior to the theatrical release gives users a taste of what is to come. 

Q: Looking at how faithfully VEEMEE has replicated the Total Recall world in PlayStation Home, what are the key impressions which Sony Pictures wants Sony gamers to take away from their time exploring Total Recall in No Man’s Land?

A: Total Recall is a futuristic world of unknown.  What is Real?  What is Rekall?  It is up to the user to decide who they are; whether it is a soldier for the Federation, an undercover spy, or a resistance member fighting for what they believe is right in their day and age.  We want users to have fun partaking in the thrill and action that the Total Recall film provides for audiences around the world.

No Man’s Land – Total Recall is scheduled to release on PlayStation Home in SCEE and SCEA regions on Wednesday, August 8th. HomeStation Magazine would like to thank Sony Pictures Entertainment for this exclusive interview, as well as the team at VEEMEE for all their support in developing this story.

Go Homeling on a Budget

by SealWyf, HSM Editor

Kassadee Marie has graciously allowed me to borrow the formula of her popular “on a budget” series, so I can celebrate a new article in Home: the Homeling Head Extenders from Lockwood. These Fluidic noggin-enlargers arrive in the x7 store during this week’s update. Next week they will go public, and the distinctive Homeling look will be available to all Home users, regardless of organizational affiliation. And, best of all, they are completely, totally free. You can’t get more “on a budget” than that!

Lockwood has been negotiating with the Homeling Collective for some time about producing Home’s first Homeling-branded virtual goods. A rough paraphrase of our complicated diplomatic and legal inquiries follows:

Lockwood: We would like to make these. (Displays photograph.) Is it all right if we call them “Homeling Head Extenders”?

Homeling Generals’ Council: Really? OMG! Yes! Yes! Yes!

I think you can see why we pushed ahead with our trademark initiative. If anything was going to be called “Homeling”, we wanted to make sure it referred unequivocally to us, and not to some hypothetical group of the same name.

The inflated-cranium look is new for us, but only because it has not previously been available. Until now, we have had to settle for removing our fur (the follicular infestation you humans call “hair”), and exaggerating our facial features. The Home avatar engine is powerful, but it was never designed to create space aliens. Adding this new chrome-dome to our tool-kit opens up all sorts of possibilities.

One of the questions we routinely get from possible recruits is, “What does that suit cost?” Soon they’ll also be asking the same question about the Homeling Head Extender. The purpose of this article is to show that you can, indeed, go Homeling on a budget — because the essential gear is absolutely free!

Our uniform, the Echochrome Suit, is one of the best bargains in Home. You win it by playing the free-to-play Echochrome arcade game, found in the Bowling Alley and Indie Park. And unlocking the suit is not hard; 2000 points in any level gives you all four pieces: top, pants, hands and feet.

The fact that every Homeling has won his or her own Echochrome shows that the game is not all that difficult. But if you get stuck, there is a simple way to cheat. Level B includes an isolated platform, where the enemy shadows never come. Just put your character on this ledge and keep him there for half an hour, occasionally moving the cursor to keep the game from timing out. This should unlock all the rewards, including the distinctive Echochrome Suit, an Echochrome logo tee shirt, a small statue of the Echochrome character, and a table. Or, you can just practice the game until you master it. It’s a lot more satisfying to win your costume honestly.

The Echochrome suit is all you need to dress as a Homeling. And, indeed, for our lower ranks it is the sole acceptable attire. But you may want to dress it up a bit by adding some accessories. Just keep in mind that we maintain a slightly humorous sci-fi look in our accoutrements — the famous “Homeling aesthetic”.

Sparklers are very Homeling, and a number of them have been given out as free rewards. Check your Hand items to see if you own any. You can also carry weapons if they fit the sci-fi look (ray guns yes, automatic pistols no), or swords that have a magical glow. LucasArts’ lightsabers are glorious, though rather expensive. Magical glowing hands are also within the limits, especially if they are green, as are sci-fi boots and gloves, and the glowing Auras.

Goggles, reflective glasses or glowing eyes can be used to dress up your Homeling face. There have been a number of free items in this category. The Bronze steampunk style goggles from Aurora are an excellent choice, and they are free. Glowing eyes can be purchased from Lockwood at $.49 a pair, or $.99 for a set of three. The most popular colors are toxic green, and the whiteout and blackout eyes.

Once you have dressed your Homeling, you will probably want to get him or her a sci-fi style apartment. This is the place to blow the budget if you can afford to. The LOOT Space Station apartment is the quintessential Homeling space, and is well worth the $9.99 it will cost you. It comes with LOOT’s signature “plugged-in” EOD, Flickr and Twitter screens. During the current Open House, you can buy the apartment bundled with an insanely large number of decorative, furniture and active items for only $14.99. It’s well worth the price.

If you can’t afford the LOOT Space Station, or if you simply want to get another sci-fi themed apartment, there are a number of less expensive choices. For the basic apartment cost of $4.99, you can choose from the Nebula Air Ship, Silicon Lounge, Novus Prime Officer’s Quarters, Anime Style, Planetland or the Post Apocalypse Apartment.

Of these, I recommend the Novus Prime space, because it includes a zero-gravity simulation. For a few dollars more, you can add your own private launch point for the Novus Prime game.

Another benefit of the Novus Prime space, from a Homeling perspective, is that it is very easy to glitch. It’s simple to make your way through the floor (Hellfire Games doesn’t seem to mind) and float among the stars. You can’t get more Homeling than that!

If you want to go a bit more upscale, take a look at the new Digital Leisure Space Station Apartment, for $6.99. This space includes several humorous interactions and a challenging asteroid-shooting game. Owners and guests are awarded a number of free items, including a charmingly retro flying saucer companion, which makes the price quite reasonable.

If you really need to stick to a tight budget, remember that almost any space can be made sci-fi with the right furniture. You can even turn your Harbour Studio into a little outpost of Fluidic Space! If you’ve been in Home long enough to win the Saucer Pop chairs and tables, look no farther. If you haven’t, the unlockable furniture items from Sodium 2 are completely free, and have a great gritty-realist sci-fi feel.

Your sci-fi space needs appropriate music, and Home offers two choices: the Novus Prime and 8-Bit music players. Each can be purchased for a reasonable $1.99. However, you might want to wait for LOOT’s portable radio to be released, and get a much wider music choices. And of course if you purchased the LOOT Space Station, the radio is included.

A proper space alien should have a companion, and Home has many candidates. Consider adopting the free Bacon Companion, recently introduced by Lockwood as a Gift Machine exclusive. Homelings are famously obsessed with bacon, so this humorous animated item is highly appropriate. And, since it costs nothing, it is definitely “on a budget”. Ask a friend who owns the Gift Machine to send you one, if you don’t already have it.

If you are feeling more serious, you might prefer to be trailed by a flying saucer. There are two good candidates. One comes free with the Digital Leisure Space Station apartment. The other, available from Mass Media, is the Unidentified Following Object, which looks quite similar. It costs $1.49, which makes it one of the cheapest companions in Home. For $1.99, you can invest in a Baby Robotic Cat from Sony Originals, or Sijed and Bijel, the robotic cobra and jerboa from Lockwood’s Sodium line. But keep in mind that most stationary Homelings are accompanied, not by companions, but Home’s free Bubble Machine.

All in all, being a Homeling can be surprisingly inexpensive. We planned it that way. Many of our members are on tight budgets, and we don’t want anyone to feel left out because they can’t afford the proper costume.

The new free Homeling Head Extenders are very much in the tradition of Homeling economy. We invite all members of the Home community, Homeling or not, to acquire these new expanded noggins, and join us in Fluidic (and inexpensive) glory.

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Madame Butterfly: A Machinima Pastiche

by Phoenix, HSM team writer

Madame Butterfly is an opera by Giacomo Puccini, an Italian composer best known for this and his other operas, including La Bohème and Tosca. Madame Butterfly was first presented to an audience at La Scala in Milan in 1904. It was a stunning failure, and closed after one night. Puccini revised his opera, and three months later presented it to the public again. Since that second production, Madame Butterfly has been hailed as one of the greatest operas of our time.

I chose Madame Butterfly as the subject for a machinima because I could use many Home spaces for the settings. I also loved the story of Cho-Cho san. I saw this opera when I was a child, and never forgot the beauty and sorrow of the set designs and story. This machinima is my homage to Puccini for giving the world such a beautifully tragic story.

Madame Butterfly is a story of tragic love, set in Nagasaki, Japan in 1890. Cho-Cho san (whose name means “butterfly” in Japanese) is a fifteen-year-old Japanese girl from a proud but impoverished samurai family, who marries Pinkerton, an American sailor stationed in Japan. While Cho-Cho san marries for love, Pinkerton marries for convenience — a “Japanese wife” who will serve until he returns to the States and weds his “American wife.” When news of the marriage reaches Cho-Cho san’s uncle and guardian, he is incensed and disowns her. Cho-Cho san is left alone with Pinkerton, who ships out to sea soon after the wedding.

It is three years later when he returns. Cho-cho san has had no word or news of him in those years, and the money he left for her support has nearly run out. From her house on the hill she sees his ship return to the harbor, and is joyful that her husband has finally returned. In the opera, Cho-Cho san has borne a child while Pinkerton was away. (In Home, of course, it is impossible to cast a three-year-old child.)

The end of the story is tragically predictable. Pinkerton has arrived in Japan with Kate, his “American wife.” After convincing his new wife to raise his half-Japanese child , Pinkerton arrives to give Cho-Cho san the news. However, after he sees the welcoming decorations she has made, Pinkerton is unable to face Cho-Cho san, and sends his wife and Suzuki (Cho-Cho san’s maid) in to see her instead. Cho-Cho san is devastated. She refuses to give the child to them unless Pinkerton himself faces her and tells her the truth.

Pinkerton finally faces Cho-Cho san and she gives him the child. She then retreats behind a screen and unwraps her father’s hara-kiri knife — the knife with which he had killed himself on the orders of the Emperor. She reads the words inscribed on the blade: “Death with honor is better than life with dishonor.” As Pinkerton, suddenly remorseful, calls to her from outside, she stabs herself and dies.

Review of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

By Jin Lovelace; Team Writer & Videographer

For those who somehow haven’t heard, the Metal Gear series, created by Hideo Kojima, is Konami’s flagship title that’s reinvigorated the action/adventure genre. It incorporates tactical espionage elements to immerse you in a world where rushing through with guns a-blazing  might yield drastic consequences. The series has been lauded for its finesse on how you take on your enemies, and for the depth of the storyline, which revolves around political situations and the fantastic characterization of the series protagonist, Solid Snake.

Those who’ve followed the series know that Snake isn’t your average James Bond, though he resembles and may have been inspired by the character Snake Plissken from the movies Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. Whereas most action games star some wicked character with a an overdose of machismo who can conquer just about anything and anyone, Solid Snake is a far cry from being the typical beefcake we have seen in most of our action heroes, either recently or in the past.

Solid Snake of the Metal Gear series

In Snake’s grim world, war is nothing but a valued tool for the economy and fighting is an expression for a better future. Fighting is all Snake knew how to do. He has no family to go home to, he lived a reclusive lifestyle in Alaska, and his eyes have seen much more than we can ever imagine. To me, he is a realistic take on how we approach certain situations in our lives and find a better solution to them. Is killing necessary against this one particular enemy? How can I avoid these traps without setting off the alarm? The series breaks tone for many philosophical points as we find solutions to near-impossible situations, and so is not a straightforward action game.

Though the series is well-known for its tactical stealth options, the game boasts so many memes, references, and ads that it’s not even funny. One feature of the series is the abundance of characters. Notably, in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, we were not only introduced to a brand new major character of the series, but a playable one as well: Raiden. In the current game, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Raiden is the main point-of-view character.

Many didn’t give this fellow a chance due to his metrosexual appearance (which is a nod to the female fans of the series) and his overall personality. Another issue for some fans was how the games he was featured in lacked control of Solid Snake, who had been replaced by a “wannabe Ninja” who could cartwheel over enemies and had delusions of grandeur at the expense of baring his manhood… literally.

Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 2

Many saw him as this overly metro-emo guy with little to no substance in his character. But I saw him differently. I saw how Raiden was a rookie special ops agent who was dropped into Snake’s realm of lies, deceit, and betrayal, and realized that everything he believed in, everything he had fought for, were all nothing but lies. Unlike Snake, who grew into a legendary status, Raiden has a girlfriend that he spoke to over Codec, and a baby on the way. How could you not sympathize with someone whose family was in the cross-hairs of the enemy’s iron sights? How would you feel if everything you were told was true, turned out to be nothing but a ploy for the terrorists?

This is one of the very reasons why we see Raiden transition from the metro-emo guy to shedding every bit of his humanity as he attempts to define himself again.

It’s intricacies like this that make me love the series so much. You’re constantly reminded that even though it’s a game, the story quickly immerses you in a world where every character matters, along with the rich details of the game itself. You’ll search every nook and cranny for things you’ve possibly missed. And trust me, there is much to explore.

Though the games are highly lauded, the series also as the reputation for having some incomprehensible plot holes that’ll have you scratching your head a bit, and for the games’ short length. The main draw, however, lies with the lengthy cut-scenes. It’s like watching a movie throughout the game, but if you ask me, it would be one of my all-time favorite movies (no offense, True Lies.)

In 2009, when I was heavily playing Metal Gear Online, which came out with MGS4, Konami announced a fifth installment to the series by the name of Metal Gear Solid: Rising. The game was to focus on the character Raiden himself, and his story during the events after MGS2 and leading into MGS4.  The game would retain stealth tactics, but would introduce new gameplay elements for Raiden’s High Frequency Blade, and the use of Blade Mode, a feature that focuses on precise cutting or dismembering limbs of the enemy Cyborgs, as well as the “Zandatsu”  (“cut and take”) technique for acquiring energy, items and ammunition.

Much hype surrounded this game upon announcement, and even a few vignettes and an inside look were released, in spite of the fact that the game was to be exclusive to the Xbox 360. The decision for the game to be on the PS3 as well, and the later decision to cancel the Xbox ports, was the beginning of development hell.

Kojima and his young team ran into several issues and conundrums on how they could approach the game’s initial premise, which incorporated action with stealth tactics. Personally, I find it to be rather tedious to preserve the emphasis on fast-paced action (hence the series tagline “Lightning Bolt action”) given that Raiden is more of a Ninja than an ageing hero with a military background. And it doesn’t help that the game would be a interquel to Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4, making it likely to be a rather stagnant title.

I can only imagine this was what KojiPro were thinking as well, thus silently dismissing the game overall.

That is, until Platinum Games came into the fray.

Known for such titles Mad World, Anarchy Reigns, and Jin Lovelace’s personal favorite Bayonetta, Platinum has a decent track record for their imaginative games. So when Kojima approached the developer to take over the project, it was like the right ingredients were coming together to create this recipe for a pan of delicious, fresh baked brownies. In this case, despite what others may say about KojiPro’s decision on handing this game over to Platinum for development, the result is a game that stayed true to its Metal Gear roots, only to be complimented with a tall glass of innovation and charm.

I swear, this is probably the best dish of awesome I’ve ever tasted.

The game was renamed Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Contrary to common belief, the word “Rising” applies to the character Raiden, and “Revengeance” refers to taking revenge or vengeance against the development hell of the canceled project. I’ll leave it to you to decide how you feel about that exclusive tidbit.

Set four years after the events of the Guns of the Patriots incident (that’s four years after MGS4), all PMCs have been split into numerous factions after the demise of the shadowy organization that ran the war economy, the Patriots. Instead of basking in the utopia of the sudden victory, they turn to advanced Cyborg technology to make up for the Patriots-controlled nanomachines which regulated the Soldiers’ abilities. We’re whisked away to the events where the main character, Raiden, is on a mission to save the Prime Minister, who has been kidnapped by the members of Desperado Enterprises, which serves as the game’s antagonist to Raiden and his team he joined, Maverick Securities.

Game Play

The game discards tactical espionage action in favor of precision attacks and fast-paced action. In my humble opinion, this a welcome addition to the Metal Gear franchise, and I say kudos for Kojima-san for allowing Platinum games to start where his team left off. Those who are familiar with Platinum’s stellar title Bayonetta should feel some similarities in the control scheme — standard light and heavy attacks followed by your initial combo sets, which you can purchase using the in-game’s currency (BP), allowing you to also upgrade and augment Raiden’s cybernetic augmented body. You can also purchase weapons after unlocking them by defeating the initial boss battles in the game.

The standard sub-weapons, such as Grenades and Rocket Launchers, are also available as pick-ups. Though they may seem useless at the start, there are some advanced combos that can be performed with them, so experiment and find out how you can utilize these items.

As mentioned before, the game’s main draw is the Blade Mode system, which allows for precise slicing. You can dismember any and every Cyborg and Machine that you come across for extra combo points (more points=more BP) or you can cut and take — Zandatsu — their energy reserves in favor of restoring your health and energy. Though I find this premise to be extremely creative, the thrill of seeing one’s arm and/or leg lacerated into bits and pieces might be disturbing for sensitive minds.

Though you can approach this game like any other action title, the stealth tactics are optional. How you approach the enemies are up to you, and there are several ways to do so. And your choices grant rewards. Rewards are bonus BP and other goodies. You want BP in this game, point blank!

My only personal gripe with this part of the presentation is the camera. Though I’ve adapted by using the target lock function, the camera will occasionally angle toward an area at some of the most crucial times, making it highly inconvenient during certain fights and Boss battles. I don’t think it’s too bad, but I strongly suggest that there should be a patch to fix this.

But aside from that drawback, the game has a plethora of unlockables and incredible depth, and the action is fast-paced and fluid. With over 30+ VR Missions and two more DLC packs underway, you’ll get your money’s worth with Rising.

Plot

I have to say the game’s setting is astounding. I remember seeing comments, however, about how Raiden is a “wannabe Solid Snake” when Rising stars a rising legend. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

I admit I was one of many who had doubts about the plot of Revengeance. Though I’ve reassured myself many times that the Metal Gear franchise never fails with their literary craft, I couldn’t help but be a bit wary about some aspects of the story.

Thankfully, the game truly delivers in spades, while adding the same Metal Gear flair everyone recognizes. The story starts wonderfully, though still pretty serious and straightforward. It weaves in political nuance involving some plot twists that resemble — and heavily reference — the game Policenauts, one of Kojima-san’s earlier works. Not a bad thing at all, considering how that game broke so much ground with its masterful storytelling, gameplay, and interactivity. So it was no surprise to see some of these elements laced into Revengeance. But you would have had to be familiar with this legendary game to comprehend the reference.

And speaking of reference, any Konami fan out there will find plenty of those in this game. The team always made quirky use of advertising their own products and others in-game. It’s these tidbits that mark KojiPro’s unique creative style.

But then we come to one of my biggest let downs in Metal Gear history: the final Boss. I found that the Boss was pretty over-powered, but with enough tries you will persevere. However, it’s not just the fight, but rather who it’s revealed to be. One of the key points about the series is how they introduce you to your true antagonist, and create a background story about them, before the final denouement. In this title, they’ve only mentioned the character a couple of times throughout the game, with little to nothing about their background. And the cut scenes of the battle were highly questionable, as were some of the choices made in the game. I mean, it’s good to inject some breaks into the serious tone of story, but these were a bit too much for the series standards.

However, the biggest part of the letdown flows from the length of the game itself. On average, most Metal Gear games can be finished in three hours. At most, you’re playing the game, cutscenes and all, for a good eight hours. For Revengeance, the length of story mode was much shorter than any MG game in history. And the final battle, along with the ending, lacked the substance that made the series so prominent. Granted, there are some epic moments during the fight, and it even had me hyped for a good bit, but after the euphoria winds down, the harsh reality, AKA “the truth” kicked in.

Overall

My personal experience with the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was highly gratifying and I strongly recommend you purchase this game. If it weren’t for the disappointing length of the story and the big reveal of the final Boss, then my score would have been a perfect ten. The lack of impact from the ending, which has been KojiPro’s trademark for the franchise, really left me wanting more. So I’m rating MGR:R a solid 9/10.

The rest of the game, along with the core story and the Metal Gear goodness that you’ve grown to know and love, remains intact. Raiden is a bit fleshed out this time around, and the game play flows so smoothly, it’s pretty addictive. Be sure to pick this one up!

The Forum: Has it Outlived its Purpose?

by Terra_Cide, HSM Editor-in-Chief

What is a community? If one were to look up the word in the Oxford dictionary, you would find the following definitions:

• a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common;
• a group of people living together and practising common ownership;
• a particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants;
• a body of nations or states unified by common interests;
• (the community) the people of a district or country considered collectively, especially in the context of social values and responsibilities; society

While some of the above does hold relevance, for this article, we’ll primarily be focusing on this definition:

• [mass noun] the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common

Home is a community. You can call it a gaming platform, you can call it a program, you can call it a three-dimensional chatroom, or you could even call it the dog’s breakfast – I don’t care.

Home is a community. It has groups, cliques, factions, rumors, gossip, outcasts and loners. It has shared and dissenting beliefs.

The societal mores that dominated my parents’ upbringing are having far fewer relevancies in the world I’m living in and raising my own child, and in some cases, never had any relevancy at all. I, like so many others of my generation, have come to rely on the network of friends that is spread out literally around the globe, on Home and elsewhere. Together, we have shared in the joys of love, of career success, of marriages and births. We have consoled each other in fights, breakups and deaths, including when it’s been the death of one of our own.

Norse is fond of quoting what a friend of his once remarked to him about Home – that you have to be damaged in some way to enjoy it. Home itself is an underdog, widely dismissed by the established gaming community – and especially in gaming “journalism” – as an also-ran, doomed to failure in the gaming race. This is likely why – despite the community’s own complaints about Home – the war sabre gets rattled should an “outsider” make similar disparaging remarks. Someone who doesn’t know Home or its community criticizing it and picking apart its flaws for public consumption would be much like a complete stranger doing the same thing to one of our friends. We’d rally around that person, even if they can more than stand up to the offending party.

Or at least, that’s how it is just about anywhere in the Home community, outside of its official forum.

The behavior that has been displayed by the majority of community members in the past few months in the forums has been less than savory. These aren’t people who are new to Home (or forums, for that matter) or are ignorant to the community’s mores, either.

First, there’s complaining about not being informed.

Then there’s complaining about being informed in advance about something because it will mean the end of Home as we know it.

Then there’s the complaining about how they are “owed” something because of how much they’ve spent, “done” for the community, or how long they have been on the forum/Home, lording their tenure over others as if their frequency has any significance, regardless if they’ve posted anything of value.

From the taunting of fellow Home members over something as trite as a pixelated velvet rope, to calling others “elitist” because they own or have access to particular virtual items, help out in the community, or communicate using proper spelling and grammar, the forum, while never exactly utopia to begin with, has been routinely hitting all-time lows for the past year or two. People have even gone so far as to polarize the community into an “us versus them” by claiming the developers are creating a class divide by offering certain products or services.

Of late, the current fuel – as it has been since it was announced in January – is the 1.75 update. And, more recently, the merging of the Home Community Volunteers with the MVP program.

Is this whinging really necessary?

This is not to say that dissenting opinions – when expressed with a modicum of temperance and intelligence – are of no value. Indeed, questioning of the status-quo is necessary at times to spur on progress; liking everything is just as much an anathema to progress as mindless complaining.

However, the level of vitriolic – and at times not-so-subtle personal – attacks does little to further a cause, and only serves to leave a bitter taste and a long lasting negative impression upon those whose already look down upon Home. It’s even more shameful when good people fall for obvious bait and drop to all-time lows; it’s shameful because whether they know it or not, they’re better than that. People may have legitimately valid points, but they’re cloaked behind so many daggers that it negates any of that legitimacy, leaving the only people who pay attention to their words the ones who use similar devices.

With the attempts at broadening and homogenizing the PlayStation brand by SCEA – and likewise, its customer base – there really is no daily involvement and direction provided by The Powers That Be, thus acerbating the forum’s downward spiral. I mean really, how many hats can a community manager wear and still be effective at their job?

It’s not just a problem that is exclusive to Sony’s forums, either. The very beginning of this year, BioWare’s David Gaider posted on his personal blog about how he rarely goes to their official forums due to the overwhelming quantities of negativity, and to me, that’s a damn good reason.

When the primary tool you as a creator have at your disposal to receive thoughtful feedback and inspiration instead leaves you with the feeling that you not only now hate creating, but life in general, there’s something broken. And sadly, it’s not always the fault of of the users, but with the gatekeepers themselves.

So the question must be asked: has the time of the official Home forum on Sony passed? Is all this back-biting and bickering really the face we want to put forth to all of those who don’t have the vaguest idea of what Home is, and stumbling upon the official forum – believing to find a useful resource – get subjected to scenes worthy of the smear campaigns seen this past election cycle?

Just so we’re clear that’s it’s not exclusively a Home/PlayStation/Sony problem: I dread whenever I have to go to an official forum – any official forum – as hosted and facilitated by a company, and have done so for roughly the past ten years. Why? Because the people that control those forums often behave like those overindulgent parents we universally are annoyed (and in some extremes, disgusted) by. They talk about discipline and rules, sure, but rarely is it ever carried out. And instead everyone else has to endure putting up with children that have all the mannerisms of Bonobo chimpanzees cracked out Red Bull and methamphetamines – and are twice as rude.

And to those crying about the recent tightening up and closing down of threads over there? Good, it’s about damn time. It is about two years too late, though.

Much of the same patterns can be seen in the policies of pretty much any official forum you find on the internet. It never fails, and it’s not as if they can really help it. They are, after all, in the business to make money, and so they’re constantly tightrope walking between keeping the peace and pleasing everyone. The problem with that though is companies tend to err far too much on the side that is wary of offending customers – and therefore making them take their money elsewhere – that it doesn’t take long for people to abuse this leniency, creating a toxic culture that not only chases off other users (be they new or old), but also casts the entire service in a negative light. All thanks to a small handful of delusional, self-entitled tyrants creating a culture that readily shuns and ridicules anyone – including service providers – not sharing in their particular viewpoint of How Things Should Be.

And as an aside, I have my doubts that these people actually want Home – or any of its third party developers, for that matter – to succeed, and have made it their life’s work to sabotage it these past years.

Would Sony be better off killing off the forum? On one hand, it would effectively kill off the sole source of any sort of customer service Sony has for Home. It is very unfortunate that the forum is the only place to go in order to have a problem sorted out with Home. But if there was no forum to support, would that free resources up to provide actual customer service? Babysitting malcontents is not a cost-effective way to provide customer service – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. After all, the whole point of Home is to socialize – in real time – online. Why does it need to have a redundant piece of outdated social media?

Change Home’s website presence to a FAQ, a means of contacting customer support – a proper, Home-knowledgeable customer support – a list of useful information about Home (the stickied threads that exist now are a good place to start), and – perhaps – a monitored means for users to contribute to an events list, club list, or volunteer their services for personal space tour/a place for people to sign up for tours.

Beyond that, places for off-Home social interactions are not hard to find. There are a considerable amount of Home fansites, all catering their unique camps, and all it takes is a few keystrokes on Google to find them. These fansites are considerably smaller than their official counterpart, but then their managers also do not have to oversee a behemoth such as the pantheon of SCEA (or SCEE, for that matter) PlayStation forums, so there is – for the more reputable sites – a far closer monitoring of community behavior.

The developers, too, have started their own blog-type sites, as well as increasing their presence on Facebook, making feedback for their products far easier for them to find, as opposed to digging through irrelevant to their interest threads and off-topic (and/or completely nonconstructive commentary whatsoever) posts within the threads that are. They have to; after all, ever since the 2011 PSN outage, they’ve realized that no matter what Home’s fate is post-PS3, if they want to continue as a business, they have to branch out into developing other commodities. And with very little promotion of their existing Home commodities to be found coming from SCEA, there is a need for them to interface with the consumer base more directly.

So it must be asked: what viable, constructive purpose does the forum still serve, when its best voices have been drowned out in a sea of unchecked personal attacks and self-entitled whining?

Does it, in fact, serve any purpose at all any longer?

Sailor Moon for Home

by RadiumEyes, HSM guest contributor

Readers of my very first article will be familiar with my passion for anime, as I make no secret of it. Having been a fan of Japanese animated productions since high school (I grew up on edited U.S. broadcasts of Sailor Moon and other fare), I guess my fascination with anime began pretty early. Now, I still maintain that fascination, and if given the opportunity, I could talk one’s ears off about the various shows out there.

Now, my first article for HomeStation Magazine was a wishlist, focusing on two popular licenses in the anime market (Mobile Suit Gundam and Rose of Versailles), both of which debuted in 1979. Truth be told, I’m not that familiar with either; I haven’t seen many episodes of either show, so my approach to each show took a bit of a historical perspective, and I felt that it wasn’t as extensive as it could have been. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed writing an article for HSM, and I wish to continue as long as I am able. For me, HSM shows how incredibly talented people can work together to produce an equally incredible magazine dedicated to the little box that is the PS3.

Well, it’s time to get to the article at hand. My first wishlist provided but two examples of anime, and making wishlists about anime-licensed costumes can go on for quite some time. This is why I wish to restrict myself in this regard – there are simply too many animated shows out there to choose from, and it’d drive me batty to look at every single show. Thus, some discretion would be prudent for choosing what licenses I think would make a splash on Home.

Which brings me to the topic of today’s wishlist — the wildly popular Sailor Moon franchise. Bear in mind that it’s been ages since I’ve seen it, so I must rely on the Internet to get me up to speed. This series, which first began as a manga by Naoko Takeuichi, basically set the standards for modern magical girl shows to come. The protagonist, clumsy high school student Tsukino Usagi, became the archetypal magical girl — her dual personalities as heroic savior of Tokyo against encroaching villains and ordinary high school student struggling with everyday high school issues clicked with audiences, and she remains an instantly recognizable figure in the anime community. Other Sailor Scouts entered the scene as the franchise progressed, with each having a Scout identity named for a celestial body, and the story’s rich roster of characters interacted wonderfully.

Sailor-Moon-sailor-moon-2949296-1024-768As the central figure, Sailor Moon stands out as the reincarnation of Princess Serenity, who once ruled over a Moon Kingdom. In the first few episodes, Usagi acted alone against Queen Beryl and her nefarious forces, but we know from the beginning that she technically isn’t the first person to obtain her Sailor Scout powers — that honor goes to Aino Minako, who dons the mantle of Sailor Venus. In any event, Sailor Moon initially didn’t have any assistance when she fought various monstrous beings sent by Jadeite to collect human energy, aside from her trusty cat Luna, who actually awakened Usagi to her identity as Sailor Moon.

For the sake of Home, I’ll delve right into the wishlist. Each Sailor Scout has a different color scheme and power set, and since they work as a sentai-like team, they’re best treated as both individuals and members of a cohesive whole. Let’s start with the star of the show, Sailor Moon. We see her in action first, and in the first few episodes, we see her dispatching the baddies with powers tied to particular talismans. Sailor Moon is one of those characters you can recognize by her silhouette alone — she’s that unique, thanks partially to her hairstyle and general physique.

The same can be said of the other Sailor Scouts. For example, Sailor Mars, whose true identity is Hino Rei, has long hair and long legs which set her apart from her peers. As the Scouts each get their individual introductions throughout the franchise’s run, we’re introduced to a pretty diverse set of personalities; this includes Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune, who happen to be lovers. Kaioh Michiru (Sailor Neptune’s civilian identity) is presented as cold and dedicated, as well as elegant, while Tenoh Hamura (Sailor Uranus) is stubborn but doting.

Amazon.Trio.full.90405Now, including costumes for the major cast would be a little daunting, since there are ten Sailor Scouts in all. Only including the Sailor Scouts would mean that male-specific costumes would be left out in the cold; thankfully, the show does include numerous important male figures throughout. The most famous of these male characters would be Tuxedo Kamen, who works alongside the Sailor Scouts, but he’s only one man — we’d need to look into the antagonists for more material, if the male-to-female ratio were to be even. This will include prominent members of the Dark Kingdom (Jadeite, Kunzite, Nephrite and Zoisite), Black Moon Clan (Death Phantom, Crimson Rubeus, Blue Saphir and Prince Demand) and others from subsequent story arcs (the Amazon Trio of the Dead Moon Circus being examples).

This laundry list of characters would be exhausting to code, and likely would take quite some time to put into place — which is why I would like to see Sailor Moon, Tuxedo Kamen, Sailor Venus and Jadeite appear first, with the other characters following in subsequent releases. Having all of them debut simultaneously would be overwhelming, so spreading costumes out over a few weeks would give people some breather time, and allow the developer to gauge how Sailor Moon costumes would fare on Home.

See You, Space Cowboy: A Cowboy Bebop Wishlist

 by RadiumEyes, HSM team writer

“On glancing over my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes, I find many tragic, some comic, a large number merely strange, but none commonplace [. . .]”

Thus began the short story “The Speckled Band,” one of several Sherlock Holmes tales (almost always told by his long-suffering assistant, Dr. John H. Watson). The inimitable detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle invariably took on curious cases that demanded a highly deductive mind and an incredible attention to detail; Holmes excelled at both, and he always humbled Lestrade after solving cases that baffled Scotland Yard. Watson’s statement about his association with Holmes is an apt description – Holmes certainly found himself following cases both tragic and comic, not to mention “merely strange.” Holmes was at his best when dealing with unusual crimes, and his intellectual acumen ultimately brought about a resolution.

But this article will not be about Sherlock Holmes. Instead, it concerns a fairly popular anime from 1998 – Cowboy Bebop. One could easily apply Watson’s description of Sherlock Holmes to the cast of Cowboy Bebop, a group of ragtag spacefarers who travel the spaceways to collect bounties and confront their respective pasts. Director Shin’ichirō Watanabe found a hit formula with the series, a combination of ‘60s and ‘70s film noir and westerns, with a great jazz score provided by Yoko Kanno (who would later work with Watanabe again on Sakamichi no Apollon, a jazz-heavy series in its own right). Bebop became one of the most popular shows of the late 1990s, particularly in the United States; anime fans the world over can recognize the show’s incredible opening theme, performed by The Seatbelts.

spike-spiegel   The show focuses on a cast of characters who all have checkered pasts; Spike Spiegel, in particular, once ran with the Red Dragon Syndicate, a system-wide gang led by mysterious figures known as The Van. It was during his time with the syndicate that Spike met Vicious (the two were partners in crime) and his love interest, Julia. When Spike leaves Red Dragon, he’s haunted by memories of his time as a member, and Vicious remains active; the two antagonize each other throughout the series, and their rivalry culminates in a fierce battle for survival. Spike’s past can’t give him a break, and he is forced to deal with Vicious and finally remove himself completely from the syndicate’s scope.

On the other side of the spectrum is confidante and fellow Bebop crewman Jet Black, who used to work for the ISSP. A fan of Charlie Parker and bonsai trees, Jet left the police force when a partner betrayed him, leaving him with a missing arm; he eventually received a cybernetic replacement for that arm, but the damage is done – Jet’s now floating around space as a bounty hunter, without a steady source of income. He’s not the stalwart cop he used to be, but he remains stoic and reliable.

Cowboy Bebop is one of those shows that you’ll never forget once you see it. The characters feel aimless, unable to escape their early misdeeds; their jobs as bounty hunters are merely a means of obtaining money, and their success/failure ratio is pretty unsatisfactory. You’re pulled into their heady world, one where Mars has been colonized, and criminal activity seems rampant. Spike, Jet and Faye Valentine (who had been frozen for some time) live in a pretty confusing and intense environment, and every bounty they chase can quickly turn violent. It’s a tragic show, through and through, but not without its comic elements – Cowboy Bebop manages to balance humor and drama very well, and it provides a glimpse into a future where society hasn’t improved much since space travel became commonplace.

So, how can this show translate into Home? I’ve already covered three IPs before – Sailor Moon in one article, Rose of Versailles and Mobile Suit Gundam in the other – and this would be my fourth foray into this. Cowboy Bebop ranks pretty high in estimation among anime fans, and its broadcast on U.S. television certainly helped it gain ground among anime fans in the Americas. That very disillusionment the characters feel drive the show; the protagonists are veritable castaways, living on the other side of the tracks and without a safety net. Cowboy Bebop remains a quintessential production, a potent combination of various influences and motifs that Quentin Tarantino would definitely approve of.

As far as Home is concerned, having costumes for Spike, Jet, Faye and Julia would be the most prudent choices. These four characters are pretty recognizable and distinct, and being central characters, they’re shoe-ins for material. We could include Vicious as well, the only recurring antagonist in the series; he’s a merciless man, and he hounds Spike endlessly. As for other characters, most episodes feature a single antagonist that doesn’t survive that episode; it would be interesting to see characters such as Alicia (Jet’s ex-girlfriend) and various single-episode characters (especially someone as unique as Mad Pierrot), but they’re all secondary in importance.

2_Ein2Now Ein, the highly intelligent Pembroke Welsh Corgi, would make for an excellent companion. Dog companions already exist, and a Corgi would be a welcome addition. The Bebop can serve as a personal space, as well; the protagonists pretty much call it home, and it’s a nice design. There could be more potential here (perhaps a jukebox that plays the OP and ED songs along with some incidental music). Like Evangelion, however, Cowboy Bebop is pretty violent, but Evangelion already saw Home content in Japan, so Bebop can follow that example. Adding the music would definitely help set the atmosphere – the soundtrack is extraordinary, and complements an amazing (if violent) series.

Licensing an external IP for Home is always a tricky process — but Cowboy Bebop might just be one worth the effort.

 

Ultraman

by Phoenix, HSM team writer

Ultraman, Ultraman
Here he comes from the sky
Ultraman, Ultraman
Watch our hero fly
In a super jet he comes from a billion miles away
From a distant planet land, comes our hero Ultraman.

Recently, I was hanging out with friends, talking about Home and other things. We got to discussing Japanese anime; anime has become extremely popular today, as has tokusatsu, but that wasn’t the case when we were younger. As we discussed these memories from childhood, I recalled a few and spoke of one: Ultraman.

Ultraman wasn’t very familiar to the group. Only two people seemed to recall the name. Only one thought it familiar; the other spoke of an Ultraman with blonde hair. This wasn’t the Ultraman from my memory, as far as I could recall. He was Japanese. I supposed it was a regional show when I was a kid, assuming that was why it was unfamiliar to them. We had two Japanese shows at that time every afternoon: Ultraman was a tokusatsu series, and Speed Racer was the animated show. This was a time when no one cared that the monster suits were all rubbery and the super hero had noticeable zippers down their backs or that the buildings were clearly cardboard and styrofoam and the same city block fell every week in the monster attack. This was a time when martial arts were amazing (still is) and sci-fi was everywhere (still is).

Ultraman was the story of a Japanese pilot of the Scientific Patrol on an elite team of six visible characters, who was accidentally killed by a UFO collision while on patrol investigating that UFO. The alien inside the craft, in his sadness at the accident acted to return the pilot’s life by merging with him, giving him his life force. Thus, Hiyata was transformed into Ultraman.  He was given a silver capsuled object called a Beta Capsule, to transform whenever there was trouble that he and his team could not handle; he would hold this capsule aloft and transform to a giant in a helmeted silver, red and blue body suit. He used special karate moves and special attacks, the favorite one being the Specium Ray emitting from his right hand when his hands formed a plus sign, to fight all the creatures that threatened earth. Most of these were Godzilla-like creatures. Though Hiyata was merged with the alien life force to become Ultraman, he could only sustain these powers and giant form for a short time. His suit had a warning light beacon on the front in the form of a chest plate, and the beacon would flash when he had only three minutes of power remaining.

I remember rushing home after school to watch this show every day. I can still recall the song, and often sing it out of the blue. The original show ran from 1966 to 1967 in Japan.  It was in the 70’s, as a return series dubbed in English, that I was enthralled by its superhero greatness. After that there were several spin off series; some reached America some did not. One such Ultraman spin off in 1992 was Ultraman: Toward the Future. It was produced in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the show.

Ultraman was a big part of my childhood. I never forgot my daily dose or first foray into the monster hero storyline, Japanese style. Years later, the Power Rangers emerged onto the scene; they were slightly reminiscent of Ultraman, with the suits and karate moves, but not the storyline or magic. Ultraman was a true hero, a true Japanese icon. Ultraman is burned into my memory. He was amazing, exotically handsome (Hiyata) and able to transform and save the world, being the first hero to obtain giant height on TV, well before Transformers ever became a reality.  Granzella’s recent addition to Home content, in the form colorful suited figures of their U-man Unidentified Squadron brought back these memories: U-man.

ultra_iota

Susumu Kurobe (born Takashi Yoshimoto), the actor who played Hiyata in the 1960’s episodes, so loved his portal of Hiyata in the original series that he revisited his role in episode 47 of Ultraman Mebius, Ultraman Brothers, Mega Monsters Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legends The Movie, and Ultraman Saga. He has played other characters in some of the other Ultraman series as well as acting alongside his daughter in Ultraman Tiga The Movie 2000. Though he has appeared in numerous other acting portrayals, Ultraman remains a big part of his life.

As I started this article I thought about the generations of American kids that love manga, anime and sci-fi, and of how much Japanese sub-culture has given and enriched our pop culture. From Japanese myth and hero legend, we arrive at some of our modern storytelling: Godzilla and Ultraman to G-Force for me; Dragonball Z and Inuyasha, One Piece, Full Metal Alchemist, Bleach and Witch Blade and more for my son.  There is a long-lasting legacy these series have created in our culture. The characters live long after childhood, being reinvented in new series and movies, for new generations of waiting fans. I was happy to discover the Ultraman character has become a family of characters all different Ultramen and women carrying on the fight for earth like Hiyata did.

It would be a blast to be able to see the original series in Home, perhaps via Crackle. It would be fun to see Hiyata and the Science Patrol save the Earth again. I am certain it would be a different experience, but even in my jaded age I think I would still enjoy those special moves as I did when I was a child.

Cogs in the Hub: Interviews With Lazy 8 Studios and Codename

by Jersquall, HSM Podcast Editor

Think back to when you entered Home for the first time.

It was an awe-inspiring – if slightly bewildering – total immersion. The ultimate sandbox experience, utterly open to your every whim, yet daunting in terms of trying to learn a brand-new culture and set of social mores. Imagine being dropped off in the middle of Nan Madol, at the height of its glory, and trying to learn all the customs and cultural practices of the Saudeleur Dynasty in a single day.

And thus, as gamers confronted with the bizarre new world of virtual reality, many of us without keyboards to communicate with, we instinctively sought the one thing we were instantly comfortable with:

Games.

For many, their first game was Saucer Pop, in the middle of Central Plaza. And it’s easy to see why. Set in the middle of the hustle and bustle of theplaza, it was a charming, innocuous oasis for everyone to enjoy. And, on a direct line of sight from Saucer Pop, the new visitor could see the entrance to the bowling alley. Which led to pool tables and arcade games. And thus, through the familiarity of gaming, the visitor became a Home citizen.

All things evolve, but some remain the same.

PlayStation Home has always been positioned as a social platform; now it seems that SCEA is going to throw in even more social games into the mix. If Home transitions into more of a social gaming platform, and its population remains comprised of console gamers, will that not in fact help realize Home’s original goal of being a social network for gamers? To that end, independent label Codename is developing a series of exclusive games for PlayStation Home.

With the announcement of the Hub, which will be released in the fall, and to reinforce their evolution into the ultimate social gaming platform on consoles, SCEA and Codename will work together to gather indie developers from around the world who can create games for Home on PlayStation 3.

The focus seems to be on the social and gaming element, highlighting the ability to “share, interact and communicate with new and existing friends.”

Keep in mind that while this is not a new trend in the gaming industry, it is something which only Sony had the courage to pioneer with video game consoles. You won’t find a virtual reality application on any other gaming console out there.

And, further, this is far, far from being just a fad – and woe to those who think of Home as some trivial curiosity with no real teeth.

Example. Less than century ago, it was commonly-accepted belief that the most powerful military force in the world was the naval battleship. And, indeed, battleships had an amazing run. Yet only five years after the battleship’s last shining moment in the sun – Jutland, 1916 – Billy Mitchell turned everything inside-out when he demonstrated that a rickety biplane could take out an entire ship with nothing more than a single bomb.

The basic concept that dropping something on your target rather than throwing something at your target completely changed warfare tactics. As a result, not only was a new (and gigantic) industry born – military aeronautics – but a brand new type of ship was created: the aircraft carrier. Meanwhile, the battleship is no longer a part of the active U.S. Navy.

And, today, we all know that the carrier is the ultimate naval force in the world. Just as we all knew, a century ago, that the battleship was.

Home is the aircraft carrier of the video gaming industry. And its games are its fighters. Sure, a Sopwith Camel isn’t nearly as visually or aurally impressive as a ship of the line engaging in full broadside – just as Home’s games have yet to rival the oohs and aahs of many of today’s top-tier gaming titles – but ultimately we all know that the carrier, with its fighters, is where the power is.

So now then. The Hub. What sort of gaming experiences will it provide? What will it do better than the old Central Plaza when welcoming a new citizen into its midst?

Home will host a 3D version of Lazy8′s gear-based puzzler, Cogs, as the featured game in the Hub. Cogs is an award-winning puzzle game where players build an incredible variety of machines from sliding tiles.

I had a chance to interview Lazy 8 Studios founder and Cogs creator Rob Jagnow, as well as the developers of the Home Hub Cogs game, Codename.

Jersquall: Hi, Rob; thanks for taking time for an interview.

Rob: It’s my pleasure.

Jersquall: Cogs — it’s coming to Home! For those who don’t know, what is Cogs?

Rob: Cogs is a puzzle game where players build machines from sliding tiles. When players get started, the puzzles are relatively simple — you’ll slide around gears on a 2D playing board to complete a simple mechanism.  But it doesn’t take long before the machines get quite complicated.  Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself working with all sorts of 3D contraptions using pipes, gears, hammers, chimes, wheels, propellers and more.  Every machine is a little different.  On one puzzle, you may need to power a vehicle.  On the next you’ll need to get the timing of several gears just right to play a musical tune.

Jersquall: What can first-time players expect? Massive addiction?

Rob: That all depends on you.  Some players find the puzzles frustrating.  But for players who want a real challenge set in a beautiful steampunk environment, then Cogs has
proven to be really addictive.  One fan just wrote me and said he’s spent over 45 hours on the PC version of the game.  Players write me all the time asking how they can erase their saved data so that they can start again from the beginning.

Jersquall: How was Cogs created? From idea to finish.

Rob: One of my favorite games as a kid was The Incredible Machine.  In it, players built Rube-Goldberg-style contraptions to achieve a particular goal.  I wanted to capture that feeling of invention and experimentation in a more polished 3D environment.  When I started prototyping, sliding tiles made sense as a way to constrain the game mechanics and offer an extra challenge.

It started as a part-time side project and took almost five years to see Cogs through to completion.  Since its April 2009 release on the PC, I have since ported it to iPhone, iPad, netbook and Mac.  Now, of course, Codename has brought it to life in Home.

Jersquall: How has Cogs changed your life?

Rob: It took a while for it to get some attention, but at this point, I can say that Cogs has been a huge success. In fact, last year, it won the $100,000 grand prize in the professional category at the Indie Game Challenge.  This has given me enough of a budget to allow me to take a huge risk on my next project and do something experimental.  The new game is called Extrasolar.  It will still be months before it’s done, but we’ve launched the teaser at http://www.exoresearch.com

Jersquall: Codename has developed Cogs for the Home Hub. Tell us about team Codename?

Rob: I already knew a bunch of the folks at Codename through our mutual connections at IndieCade, a fantastic annual independent game festival near Los Angeles.  When they approached to see if I was interested in getting Cogs on Home, I was really excited about the idea.  They have a talented team and I think they’ve done a beautiful job.

Jersquall: Do you still play Cogs?

Rob: Of course! Even after working on the game for years, I’m still not tired of it.

Jersquall: Rob, HomeStation Magazine wishes Lazy 8 Studios’ continued success; thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

Rob: Thank you!

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Sony and Codename will bring more attention to PlayStation Home and the PlayStation 3 for indie developers.

Codename itself began development on Super Awesome Mountain RPG for PlayStation Home, which is described as blending a board game with fantasy RPG elements. When reached for comment, SCEA PlayStation Home Community Managers said that both parties had currently put the project on hold to focus on development of other content.

I had the chance to talk to Codename CEO Jesse Vigil about developing games for PlayStation Home and more.

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Jersquall: Tell us a little about Codename? 

Codename: Codename is a new business model in the game space. We call it a “label” for independent games. Practically what that means is that we care passionately about bringing independent games to a larger audience and about creating new and exciting kinds of play experiences. We work with established talent like Rob and try to find a cool thing to do together. We discover and nurture new talent, like the guys at Peanut Gallery who are real superstars and who we paired with Rob to adapt “Cogs” for Home. And we have our own small internal studio of multidisciplinary ninjas who do everything from concepting and design to the boots-on-the-ground work that gets the game on the console and in your living room.

Jersquall: Tell us about Codename and its partnership with Home. What will Codename do for Home? 

Codename: The people at Home have been AMAZING. I’ll admit they took a big chance on us, but it’s been working out really well. We have an ongoing partnership with them to bring a wide variety of independent games to Home in increasingly near future. A lot of those are for the new player experience they unveiled recently which includes launch content like “Cogs.”

One thing we’re really proud of in our relationship with Home is the team-ups and partnerships we’re putting together. For one of our upcoming games, we put together a talented designer from the mainstream industry — who has since gone indie — with an up-and-coming toy designer. We thought they’d make a cool game if they put their heads together and we’re all very excited about what came out of that. This isn’t just porting indie games to Home. Even Cogs, which is such an amazing game, has some surprises planned that are unique to Home and really take advantage of what’s different about the platform.

Jersquall: Indie games have come a long way. Do you get tired of being called an indie game company, or is it a badge of courage? 

Codename: Game folks (and Wil Wheaton) make up about 90% of my follow list on Twitter. Someone crossed my feed last week who said something to the effect of, “I hope my game doesn’t get too popular or I won’t be indie anymore.” Really? What the eff, dude? You hope millions of people don’t fall in love with something you made and want to play it all the time? I have news for you, dude: you’re not an independent game designer. You’re a snob.

I have a huge issue with the idea that “indie” means “fringe” or “not commercially viable.” It means independent. It means you made it the way you wanted to make it and it’s the product of your unique perspective, experience, taste, or whatever. That’s it.

The fact of the matter is that we at Codename are thrilled with the growing popularity of independent games. We love these games, and we love the people who make them. When our friends and family members tell us about how they discovered this thing called “Flower” or “Braid” and say, “is that the kind of thing you’re doing? Because that was an amazing game,” how could we feel anything but pride?

Jersquall: You are partnering with PlayStation Home to create and develop games that step outside the parameters of traditional game development. Not an easy challenge? 

Codename: Correct! And I’ll be the first to admit that we’re learning as we go. A lot of the challenge is being the intermediary between a large publisher that is used to games being made a certain way on one end and a designer used to making games a decidedly different way on the other end. One of the reasons I’m so glad to be working with someone like Jack Buser is that he gets that we’re playing the long game here. We’re going to try a lot of different stuff together. Some of it may not work the way we hoped, but some other stuff is going to really click and that’s going to be amazing.

Jersquall: It was announced several months ago that Codename has a handful of games in development for Home. Which games can you talk about? 

Codename: For just a little while longer, I can only be maddeningly vague. Here’s what I can say: you can look forward to a pretty diverse slate in the coming months. There are a couple of pick-up-and-play things in the works that are a unique take on arcade and casual. If you want a solid action game from a pretty neat perspective, we’ve got you covered. And the thing I alluded to earlier from the unique game/toy designer pair is also coming very soon, and we should be talking about pretty quickly.

Jersquall: Home has been more of a social community enjoying single-player games, but over the last year more multiplayer games have been introduced. Will Codename bring both single and multiplayer games to Home? 

Codename: Yes, though something we learned from “Slap Happy Sam’s Stage Show” was that our games need to be fun if you’re the only person in the room who wants to play it. That game is SO fun with six people, but being multiplayer-only made it hard for the game to stay popular. A great single player experience that gets even better with multiplayer is where we’re looking for lately.

Jersquall: Will these games have rewards for Home users? 

Codename: Oh heavens, yes. I want to tell the longtime Home veterans that we’re new on the block and we’re still learning what you want out of rewards and what you’ve gotten sick of, but we know it’s important and are working on making the rewards a more integral part of the design process in some of the games we do next. We have some great producers over at PlayStation Home who are helping us with that, too.

Jersquall: Free to play, pay to play and purchasing of full games have become the norm for PlayStation Home users. Can we expect a little of each from Codename team games? 

Codename: Yes, and it really varies from game to game and what makes sense for the game. Some of them are going to have a mix, some are going to be straight-up free, some are going to favor one more heavily than another.

Jersquall: What do you think about PlayStation Home? 

Codename: The thing that I always say when I get asked this question is this: It is a unique platform. When we first met the Home producers I logged in one night to look around some more because I really wanted to play everything and know all there was to know about Home. I ended up in Sully’s Bar and after ten minutes I realized there was a group of people in that bar who met there every night to shoot the breeze. I played the arcade game in the corner and then sat on the bar and talked to them and I remember thinking, “this is not the rest of the PlayStation 3. This is a different audience. Of course they want different games.”

Jersquall: Do any of the Codename team’s games look like they have the possibility of sequels or even DLC in their future if successful? 

Codename: If successful, hells yes. And some stuff is already planned. When the new districts go live, there are a few subtle signs in our stuff that should hint that we’re not done with some of the games or worlds we’re creating by a long shot.

Jersquall: Thank you, Codename. We are looking forward to seeing your games in PlayStation Home. Will we see Codename hanging out and playing games in the very near future in Home? 

Codename: Yes. You will. When the games go live, we’ll tweet (@codenamegames) when we’re playing. And we want to get to know the Home players. We’re a small studio and we’re in this for the long haul like I said, so we care about your feedback and want to make things that will entertain you and that you feel good about spending money on them.

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Looking back at a few of the other social games in Home — SlapHappy Sam, Sodium 2, Novus Prime — and special social game event hits like Killzone Plaza Defender and recently Dead island TGI, these games have caught the attention of regular Home users and have even made the hardcore gamers pay a visit to the Home community to see what everyone’s been talking about.  This is a necessity, because the PS3’s installed user base is a population full of gamers. And, right now, this industry is in a transition no less significant than the aforementioned example of the battleship to the aircraft carrier.

Ninety years ago, all it took were some small, unassuming biplanes to change the course of military warfare forever. Ninety years later, all it took were some small, unassuming games to change the course of video-gaming entertainment forever.

Cogs is no less significant than the Sopwith Camel. And Home is the aircraft carrier to the industry’s majestic array of battleships. All it takes is the right fighters – the right games – for the carrier to inevitably win.

In five years, Billy Mitchell rewrote the rules of large-scale armed combat.

In five years, Jack Buser rewrote the rules of large-scale console-based gaming.

In time, it is conceivable that the names of the game developers arrayed with the emerging future Home is bringing about will become as prominent as Lockheed, Grumman or General Dynamics are today to the world of military aeronautics.

Or, let me put it to you this way: five years ago, who the hell had ever heard of Zynga?

And, today, who hasn’t?

With event more social games coming from Codename in the fall, the newest addition and reimagining of Home is and has been underway for some time now. Not only will Home be taking care of its user fan base, but it will encourage new users to come Home sit back turn on their cig herb maker and play.

Home has been turning heads lately, and soon will also be welcoming the prodigal sons and daughters who have left to strictly game to come back Home to game. In the process, they just might find they want to talk to each other. And thus the dream of a social network for gamers will have been realized.

Funny how games were the key to making that happen.

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