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Bringing the possibilities of the Galaxy to you!

outer-spaceOuter Space is totally awesome.  It is a vast unknown made even more desirable by its unattainability.  Who hasn’t looked up at the stars and wondered at the secrets it holds: Other worlds where life may flourish? Wormholes and other crazy, cosmic anomalies? Matt Damon fist-fighting Matthew McConaughey?  I dream of a new Age of Discovery in space with rockets launching daily into the sky, en route with fresh explorers and colonists and filled with the same wonder and optimism as the European voyages of the 16th century – except without all the communicable diseases and slavery.

Unfortunately, while the United States space budget is still easily the highest in the world, it is a shadow of its former 1960s glory.  The current political climate doesn’t seem to have space exploration as a priority above petty terrestrial issues such as “stable economies” and “not killing one another.”  Even though it looks like we may be getting the hoverboards and self-lacing shoes predicted by Back to the Future II, with unfortunate setbacks like the Virgin Galactic crash and Ted Cruz basically being put in charge of NASA it seems human space exploration and colonization will have to remain a dream for now.  Even the scientists and other professionals in the space industry are forced to watch from afar while robots get to do all the real exploring.  Lucky robots.

unnamed-2Fortunately for those of us who like to lose ourselves in a little escapism, virtual space exploration is available in the form of video games.  Though gaming can be a nice distraction from reality, they can also focus and inspire scientific discovery like many science fiction television shows, films and books have in the past.  I’ve been on a bit of a space gaming kick lately so I thought I’d share some of the games that scratch that particular space itch.

Space Engine
From the creator: “(Space Engine is) a free space simulation program that lets you explore the universe in three dimensions, from planet Earth to the most distant galaxies.”  It is a very pretty, free space explorer.  Though it honestly doesn’t have what some would consider “gameplay.”  It is more of a Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” simulator, letting you explore worlds that are both real and procedurally generated.

Elite: Dangerous
The fourth game in the long-running Elite series and further into the sci-fi spectrum, this online space shooter/trader/explorer gets props for using real astronomical data combined with fast-paced flight and combat.  If you have played similar games like “Wing Commander: Privateer,” then you may have an idea of what sort of game this is.  It is especially immersive as it supports TrackIR head tracking software and HOTAS (Hands On Throttle-And-Stick) setups natively.  It also boasts a map of more than 400 BILLION systems that you can visit, though not in any human lifetime.

EVE Online
Cutthroat space capitalism – the MMO.  This massive multiplayer online game takes place in a distant galaxy and focuses on player controlled factions out in deep space.  It boasted what was probably the most impressive star-map until Elite: Dangerous came along.  You can sit in the small, heavily policed “Player Versus Environment” (PvE) area if you want, but you’ll be missing out on the greater metagame taking place in the outer reaches of the galaxy.  If you have ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a tiny pawn in a great economic war machine, you can join one of the many completely player owned and operated megacorporations.

Kerbal Space Program
unnamed-3Okay, forget those other games.  This is THE space game.  Kerbal Space Program seeks to simulate all the aspects of running your own space program, from orbital physics (what the heck is an “apoapsis?”) to atmospheric drag.  The game features a career mode where you must conduct research and secure funding, and a sandbox mode where you may build rockets to your heart’s content. Never mind about exploring distant star systems, in KSP you’ll be delighted just to get your scrapped together rocket into orbit.  Experience all the elation of landing your plucky crew of Kerbals on the nearby moon and the horror when you realize you don’t have enough fuel to make it home.  The creators have even collaborated with NASA to create in-game missions such as an asteroid interception.  The game is technically still in beta, but there is plenty of content to keep you busy.

There are of course a number of other promising space-themed games out there.  Among them are the upcoming “No Man’s Sky” and “Enemy Starfighter.”

The point is while the Space Age of Discovery may still be very far in the future, we can use our existing technology and resources to bring space to us in the form of computer games and simulations, tv series and films, books and tabletop RPGs.  I remain optimistic that the seed of inspiration brought by these mediums will eventually grow into a future where we can get over our earthly selves and look towards that next, seemingly impossible frontier – and exploit the HECK out of it.

Kevin Ley
Project Manager

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When Playing Online Isn’t Enough: #LAN Parties and You

It’s a tense round of Titanfall

I’m running across the rooftop of a building in the Angel City map, desperately chasing the last survivor of the rebels as he makes his way to the extraction point in this round’s epilogue. I wall-run to gain some speed, and he makes a vital mistake: he holds still to shoot one of my teammates. I drop behind him and with a snap, end his round.

unnamedIt’s a story I’ve had play out many times playing MMORPGs from my computer; but, this time it was a bit different.  Instead of chuckling over Ventrilo (or some other VOIP software), I instead stood up from my seat, looked to the other side of my table, and stared into my opponent’s eyes, smiled and winked.  Not a moment later, the rest of my team cheered around me, and that round of the tournament was over.

This event occurred last month, and I was at a LAN party called PDXLAN in Portland, Oregon. My team won the heated match against another group in the gigantic room that holds 500+ people and their computers. It was amazing!

A LAN party, or simply LAN, as it’s also known, is a group of people who bring their own PCs, jam together tightly in a room, hook the computers to a Local Area Network, and let fly with the video games. Once relegated to basements and family rooms (with only a few people playing games), today’s LAN parties have grown, ranging from smaller university events to huge mega-LANs, like the one found at Dreamhack in Jönköping, Sweden (Dreamhack set a world record in 2013 by having 17,403 connected systems!). This specific event started 2003 when Matt “Vector” Conwell decided to jam 500 people into a conference hall with computers for an epic, fun event.  As it turns out, it was well-received (if not amazing), and it blossomed into one of the largest semi-annual LAN parties on the West Coast.

unnamed-1

I started attending these events in 2008, and I can tell you, it’s a special experience meeting people in-person, whose voices you’ve only heard online. It’s even better when your (somewhat embarrassing to say aloud) avatar name is shouted loudly in faux anger across a room (thanks, Sergio…).

PDXLAN also included smaller events and tournaments, and a number of generous sponsors to help with costs, such as providing internet and supporting the raffle (which I’ll get to later). The sponsors gave presentations with giveaways.  And, the event raised money for various charities, ranging from food collections to cash donations.

Card_backWhen registering for PDXLAN, participants received anywhere from 1 to 3 (or more) raffle tickets.  On the last day of the event, Vector always takes the stage to begin the much-anticipated raffle.  Vector grabs a prize, grabs a ticket, and calls out the winning number. If your ticket gets pulled, you “woot for loot,” and run up and take your prize. The prizes are always awesome, from cases to power supplies to 700+ CPUs and video cards. In our event last month, we even had some mini-PCs raffled off.

After all of the raffle prizes were passed out (which easily took an hour), everyone packed up, said goodbye, and left. It’s always a bit sad leaving those friends you see often, but it’s always a blast when I get to go.

You can catch a video summary of the 22nd event here and you can read more about the event here.  Hope to see YOU there some time too!

Michael Dalipe
Mod

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Digital Highlights for Today

nexusae0_google-io-chrome-os_dtSince it’s Google I/O Day (“Google I/O is an annual developer-focused conference held by Google in San Francisco, California”), and we see gobs and gobs of awesome updates regarding Google’s releases, products, and launches, I thought it might be nice to share some digital information from the week, thus far!  Please enjoy — and if you have additional articles or cool updates, do not hesitate to share in the comments below.

1. Google Drive is trying to be friendly with Microsoft

Can I saw… PHEW??? Oh my gosh, seriously.  I’m a big supporter of Microsoft Word (I’m a writer at heart), but I am also a big supporter of Google Drive’s wonderful tools for sharing and collaborating.  I cannot tell you how often I end up transferring a draft from Word into a Google doc and having to go back and reformat every little detail.  For me, this is absolutely grand news!

2. The Internet of Things…
Explained by Mashable, here’s a lovely video that explains how the internet works with various household appliances, and what to expect from that digital relationship.  It’s short, and sweet, but also a fun reminder of how innovative and smooth our world is becoming!

3. Amazon is ordering GrubHub to go…?

I work from home, and there are days when I look up and it’s 6pm and I’m still hard at work, and a quick run to the grocery store is out of the question.  GrubHub is my bestie.  I love this app so much.  I realize there are others like it, but I am a pretty loyal lady when it comes to relationships with inanimate things (case in point: I truly believe that my car will heal itself after that little run-in with a tight parking spot).  My only frustration with GrubHub is that I wish it had a wider reach for delivery or options.  The idea that Amazon – which specializes in bringing me everything I want (just about) is going to take on GrubHub?  Ruh roh!  I’m interested to see how Amazon might expand on what GrubHub, and other apps like it, have established.

4. Heads up, Parents! Facebook’s Slingshot is live.

Facebook’s new Slingshot messaging app, the one that forces friendship through a special reciprocation mechanic, has today launched worldwide. Originally, the app was only available in select areas.

Slingshot is another poke at Snapchat, which has proven to be a real threat to Facebook, especially given that Snapchat doesn’t rely on Facebook or integrate with their APIs in any way.

The new app lets you send photo and video messages with your friends, complete with doodles and effects, but there’s one catch. You can’t view the content of an inbound message until you’ve sent that person a response.

slingshotMost of us have heard of SnapChat by now (and if not, here’s a handy parents’ guide to SnapChat from our friends at ConnectSafely.org).  So, if you want to stay up-to-date with the tech you should be concerned with, here’s your chance – dive into that article, and maybe look into the app yourself and explore Slingshot.

5. Combatting Online Harassment

We, at Metaverse Mod Squad, are often involved with some AWESOME gaming companies, and cool social projects.  We see the bookends of social behaviors, and we are the police-people of trolls (the digital kind, not the Norwegian kind).  We see the highs of community, and the lows, and we also understand how and why companies respond to these behaviors as they do (it’s not always simple).  What I love about this article is the time, acknowledgement, and care that Riot Games puts into their audience experience.  They truly have done a fantastic job building innovative ways to combat bad behavior in their games.  It’s so darn admirable, and I’m proud we work with them!

“If we remove all toxic players from the game, do we solve the player behavior problem? We don’t.” [Jeffrey Lin, Riot’s lead designer of social systems] That is, if you think most online abuse is hurled by a small group of maladapted trolls, you’re wrong. Riot found that persistently negative players were only responsible for roughly 13 percent of the game’s bad behavior. The other 87 percent was coming from players whose presence, most of the time, seemed to be generally inoffensive or even positive. These gamers were lashing out only occasionally, in isolated incidents—but their outbursts often snowballed through the community. Banning the worst trolls wouldn’t be enough to clean up League of Legends, Riot’s player behavior team realized. Nothing less than community-wide reforms could succeed.

Please check out that article.  It’s a fantastic guide to Riot’s approach to community, and providing a full experience for all players.

6. Second Life for the Rift Oculus Win!

For those of you who loved your Second Life — you’re in for a treat!  Our dear friends, and esteemed clients, at Linden Labs have some cool plans ahead:

Now, in 2014, it has a new chief executive and renewed ambitions to break out of its niche. Ambitions which include launching a completely new version of Second Life, as well as making it work with the now-Facebook-owned Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

“With technology, market interest, hardware and software available, now is the time to give it another big shot. We have the experience to do it more than anyone else,” CEO Ebbe Altberg told TheNextWeb, adding that the new version of Second Life will launch in beta form in 2015, then commercially in 2016.

imagesThis could be huge for Virtual Worlds — across the map.  It’s not been the best time for Virtual Worlds (in general), with most Virtual Worlds either closing, changing to MMORPG play, or dissolving all together.  This could be a great opportunity to bring social imagination and engagement back to the online platform.  As a huge fan of the virtual world experience, I am very excited to see what Second Life does with Oculus Rift!

7. Facebook at Work?

It seems this is all speculation and hearsay, but here’s the rumor going around (more theories in the article itself):

According to an anonymous source inside Facebook, the company is working on a way to put the social network into a more positive light in the office. It is building an at-work version of Facebook.

“We are making work more fun and efficient by building an at-work version of Facebook,” the source says. “We will touch code throughout the stack and on all platforms (web, iOS, Android, etc.).” The source, who refers it as “[email protected]”, says the effort is based in London.

What’s not clear is whether [email protected] is something being built as an internal enterprise communication platform, or whether there are ambitions to leverage Facebook to drive new business, by giving people a way to interface with the hundreds of millions of people who already use it to market their businesses and themselves — along the lines of LinkedIn.

This could be very interesting, and a unique way to keep tabs on workers and their social commentary / behaviors (from an HR standpoint).  I’m not sure how cool I am with having that much access to my personal life with my coworkers (sorry dears).  This might be another way for the platform in their fight to remain daily relevant.

Again – if you have run into a great article, please share it in the comments.  If you happen to be cruising through your Twitter feed, and you find an article or tidbit you think we’d be interested in at Metaverse Mod Squad (we do love keeping up with the industry), do not hesitate to add us: @metav3rse, and tweet at us.  After all, sharing means caring. 😉

Izzy Neis
Director of Engagement & Strategy

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Guild Wars 2: An MMORPG with Style, Flexibility – and Fun!

images-1Every now and then I discover a new online thrill that completely captures my imagination (and incidentally large hunks of my spare time). My latest obsession is the critically acclaimed MMORPG Guild Wars 2.

Prior to this, I had not been much for MMO type games, to the frustration of many of my game-playing buddies. The concept of total immersion in a fantasy world certainly had appeal for me, but the heavy emphasis on lengthy elaborately-structured warfare situations, not so much. However, the designers of Guild Wars 2 built the game with the goal of providing a satisfying experience for a wide variety of playing styles, from casual PvE adventurers to hard-core PvP warriors. I quickly found I could get plenty of enjoyment from just touring around the world exploring at my own preferred pace.

And there is a huge amount to explore. Guild Wars 2 picks up the fantasy world of Tyria about 250 years after the events of the original Guild Wars. It is a rich and complex world, interweaving traditional sword-and-sorcery mythmaking, newfangled steampunk/alchemical technology, complex political intrigues, and even bits of philosophy and spirituality, to rival many classic fantasy fiction novels with which I’m familiar. All of this is rendered in breathtakingly beautiful art and state-of-the-art animation, so that one feels at times like one is wandering around the latest Peter Jackson production — or perhaps a Maxfield Parrish painting.

My main player character, a Sylvari ranger, in The Grove, the Sylvari home city.

My main player character, a Sylvari ranger, in The Grove, the Sylvari home city.

The creativity extends to the variety of character types you can choose to play. The five playable races include humans (both nobles and commoners); Norn, a race of Viking-esque giants; Asura, a Ferengi-like diminutive race of technological geniuses; Charr, a fierce feline warrior race who, to steal another Star Trek metaphor, remind me mightily of Klingons; and my personal favorites, the Sylvari. These elven-like tree people are born, fully adult and sentient, from a huge goddess-like tree, with whom they are all interlinked by a cosmic collective consciousness known as the Dream of Dreams.

In addition to more traditional profession choices like warriors, guardians, rangers, the rogue-like thieves, and three types of spellcasters (elementalists, mesmers, and necromancers), GW2 introduces a new class, the engineers, who excel in bombs, gizmos, elixirs, turrets, and other technologies that go splodey. But what is interestingly absent is a separate healer class. Everyone has some healing ability for themselves and their fellow players; in fact, all these professions are extremely flexible, and can to a certain extent even cover each other’s roles when playing together in guilds and raiding parties.

But perhaps the biggest innovations in Guild Wars 2 are in the area of events and new content. There are a number of more traditional-style dungeons, plus the previously-mentioned areas for individual and team PvP; but the majority of events happen out in the public PvE environment where anyone passing by can participate, and earn loot proportional to the extent they help – in other words, “stealing kills” is a non-issue in this game. And instead of expansions, the developers of Guild Wars 2 release new content every few weeks, arranged in “Living Story” arcs that result in permanent changes to the game’s world.

Oh, and one other thing: Guild Wars 2 requires no subscription. You pay once to acquire the software client, and that’s it. There is of course a shop where you can buy fun cosmetic pretties for your avatar and such, but these are totally not required in order to play and enjoy the game.

There is so much more that I could burble on about with regards to Guild Wars 2, but for now I will leave you with this video trailer featuring some of game’s great voice acting talent – featuring Steve Blum, well-known in anime circles as the US voice of Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel among many others, and Felicia Day, uber-geek-girl mastermind of the hit web TV show The Guild.

Ellen Brenner
Social Media Project Manager

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Glitch Commits One Final Act of Random Kindness and Senseless Beauty

Glitch-Game-LogoIn a world where entertainment businesses defend to the death even the tiniest shred of intellectual property, the idea of an online game-maker putting the entirety of a game’s assets in the public domain seems like something out of a utopian fantasy. But that’s exactly what the creators of the late, lamented browser-based MMO known as Glitch did in late November of last year – an act of generosity that surprised its adoring fans not one bit.

You see, Glitch had always been a maverick among MMOs. The brainchild of Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield, Glitch had nearly no warfare or competition component of any sort, and zilch reference to any of the common MMO genre tropes. Instead it offered a virtual world that looked and behaved like a Dr. Seuss book as re-imagined by Cheech and Chong, in which players helped the eleven sleeping giants in whose dream this world existed by carrying out acts of creativity and cooperation.

Unfortunately, while Glitch developed a devoted and fanatical following, it never grew big enough to put the game into the black, financially. One can’t help thinking it was because Glitch was just too darned different – that the majority of adult gamers preferred more conventional MMOs with battles, bosses, and kabooms.

unnamedI had been playing Glitch for only a few months when Stoot (as Butterfield was known within the game) sadly announced his decision to call a halt to the dream. While I was surprised at how deeply this saddened me, I was even more surprised – and moved – by how both players and devs (short for developers) rose to the occasion. The forums were filled with huge outpourings of gratitude to the game-makers, plus genuine grief over losing something so rare in the world of gaming. The devs, meanwhile, feverishly rolled out tons of content they had been working on so that we could all enjoy it before the shutdown, plus additional “end-of-the-world” content that gave a real sense of closure.

unnamed-1Myself, I spent the last few weeks of Glitch roaming the far corners of its world, grieving all the wild and wacky beauty that was about to go pffffft in a cloud of pixels. So you can just imagine my joy over this decision to put all that beauty in the public domain, for us Glitch fans to use as we see fit. There had already been an active cottage industry of fan-created arts and crafts based on the game, the more so since its closure – but now, with the original art and even the Flash code available to all, the possibilities are endless.

unnamed-2All I can say is: Stoot, you’re a class act, and I hope your generosity and vision serves as an inspiration to the industry.

Ellen Brenner
Social Media Manager

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What’s the big deal about Cyberbullying?

cyber-bullying1Cyberbullying is the use of digital communications, such as the internet or cell phones, to harass or intimidate another person, with the intent of causing fear, anger, or sadness.  Bullying is done in person, for the same reasons, and often has a physical component.

In one of my community & moderation projects for Metaverse Mod Squad, I often see the results of both bullying and cyberbullying. Teenagers and young adults share openly about the pain and humiliation they’ve suffered, and the lasting scars it leaves.

2facts1-300x231We all probably remember what it feels like to be singled out for some abuse.  Is there a single person who has never experienced this?  I highly doubt it.  I wasn’t brutalized, by any means, but I was the short kid, and had a last name (Hammer) that drew remarks.  However, my worst incidents of bullying actually happened at the hands of a teacher who didn’t like me.  I was in third grade, and to this day, the sting and humiliation remain.

There are several reasons why cyberbullying can “feel worse” than in-person bullying for the victim.

  • The source is unclear. It might come from random Twitter handles, unknown Facebook accounts, or unrecognized cell phone numbers.
  • It’s meaner. People will use crueler words when they feel anonymous. In person, they might tell your child to shut up, but anonymously, they’ll tell your child to drink bleach and die.
  • It spreads so quickly. So many people can see a social media post instantly, and technology makes it so quickly to share it all. It feels like everyone knows, because it’s possible for everyone to see.
  • It doesn’t end. In-person bullying ends when you go home from school, or when you’re no longer “in-person.” Cyberbullying can happen at night, on weekends, on holidays, or while you’re away on vacation.

Is it possible that kids are just meaner now, and it’s not really cyberbullying?  Well, yes, that’s possible. Things like “ur so lame” and “i hate ur music so much” are common, and really aren’t bullying.  They’re just sort of impolite words.  The difference seems to be in the person’s intent, and how often it happens.  If the person uses digital means to repeat cruel words and actions many, many times, even over the course of days or weeks, with the intention of causing someone to be upset, scared, or intimidated, it’s cyberbullying.

What do we do about it?

This week, in the town where I live, a mother became very frustrated about people bullying her sophomore son.  She posted a message on Facebook that said, “And they asked why do people shoot up schools, well this is exactly why and when our son does it cause I know he will have nobody to blame but the administration and I promise everyone he will only get the ones that caused this. He is an excellent marks men.”  Here’s a tip, folks:  This is NOT the best way to handle it.

For older kids, it can be more difficult.  They’re beginning to feel like they should deal with their own problems, and don’t want the stigma of being someone who goes running to their parents when someone bothers them.  Parents can help by being present and available for their teens, and by occasionally bringing up the subject to provide opportunities for discussion.

All kids should be taught that they should block anyone who is harassing them, without responding or retaliating, and that if the messages are threatening or if they continue, they should save them, by taking screen shots or printing the messages.  And most importantly, they should talk to you about it — with your reassurances that you won’t freak out and do something that makes it worse.

If the situation is happening in an online game, it should be reported (by your child), using the tools provided.  The best scenario, of course, is that your child uses a game that utilizes actual human moderators, such as the good folks of Metaverse Mod Squad.  Michelle Ramage is Metaverse’s project manager for a large, sports-related kid’s virtual world.  According to Michelle, their problems mostly concern general “mean talk” or harassment.  Says Michelle, “Any player who is found to be repeatedly harassing another player has their account suspended.  We just don’t tolerate it….”

If the situation involves someone the child knows, and blocking the bully hasn’t ended it, you may need to take additional steps.  This is where you’ll be glad that you saved the messages.  You can report the person to the social media site where it is occurring.  If the messages contain threats of harm, sexually explicit words or photos, hate speech, or reach the level of stalking, you should report it to the police. Additionally, many schools have a policy about things outside of school that lead to disruption inside school.  Since cyberbullying can often lead to in-person, physical bullying, you may want to report it to the school, as well.

So, parents, stay strong.  Talk about these things, and more importantly, LISTEN.  Think before you take action.  Seek advice from level-headed friends.  It really does get better.

Susie South
Chief Moderator

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Guest Blog Post: Striking the Fine Line Between Appealing to Both Kids and Adult Gamers

guyoncouchVideo games are a mainstream form of entertainment, and more people are playing games than ever before. Currently, 67% of all American households contain gamers, and the average age of the game consumer is 34, with the 18-49 year-old demographic making up one half of the gaming demographic. As a result, producers pour an incredible sum of money marketing their titles toward the more mature gamer.

That said, 25% of the gamer community is under 18, and many adult gamers get into it as a way to keep an eye on their young gamers. Indeed, some research suggests that up to 97% of all kids play video games at least some of the time, many an hour or more per day.

Playing games together is a time-honored tradition in many families, and it’s the natural extension of family board game nights in techno-savvy households. The challenge for developers, then, is balancing the needs of both kids and adult gamers to create a game that will appeal to a wide target audience.

Key Considerations

At their core, gamers of all ages want just one thing: a good game. Within that, though, certain things will appeal better to some players than others. Here are some tips for designing a game that will appeal to players of all ages:

  • Use humor.

Kids love humor, and adults will appreciate a few high-brow jokes hidden in innocuous places. One game that succeeds wonderfully at this is Viva Pinata, where a decidedly adult subtext sails right over the heads of young players while providing amusement to their parents.

  • Consider creating a sandbox-style game.

incredibles

[Image: Disney Infinity, rumored to be a full sandbox game]

Although it’s not the only model that can be successful, sandbox games give you an automatic advantage when designing a game for a wide audience. Since players can create their own goals, the game can be engaging for people of multiple skill levels.

  • Make sure the controls are simple.

The more buttons involved in game play, the harder the learning curve and the more likely that young players will get frustrated. There’s a reason why the Wii dominates among families: Simple, intuitive controls make for a more enjoyable immersive gaming experience.

  • Make the art style interesting.

biggreentreeWhile photorealism is a popular choice among adult-oriented games, it’s not as captivating for kids (and admittedly a few older gamers) who are more accustomed to cartoons and brightly-clad superheroes. You don’t have to go for a cartoony look, but a unique visual style will signal that this is a game that kids would like.

  • Make it easy to put down.

While adults are often very happy to sit down for a weekend-long game session, kids are usually playing in short bursts between school and homework. Design your game in such a way that real achievements or progress can be made in 30 minutes of game time, and the game can be saved at any point. This will also make it easier for a busy parent to sit down and play along.

Striking The Balance

There are many enjoyable all-ages video game franchises on the market, including Epic Mickey, Little Big Planet and Viva Pinata. These games are all very different, but they have one thing in common…

… They’re all well-made, excellent games.

Whether you’re creating a sandbox-style game or a puzzle-based platformer, paying attention to quality is what will make your game stand out from the crowd. Formal education through game design programs offered at places like the New York Film Academy can help you hone your natural ability to craft this, but ultimately it’s through practice that you’ll hone your eye for a balanced experience.

marioKids might be forgiving about thin story or repetitive game play, but adults require more intellectual stimulation. At the same time, adults have more patience for slow-moving games, but kids demand to be entertained without being bored. Learning to balance your pacing, difficulty level and content quality won’t just help you make a better family game; it’ll also make you a better game designer in general.

New York Film Academy
Guest Blogger

NEW YORK FILM ACADEMY – NEW YORK CITY
Acting & Film School
The Most Hands-On Intensive Program in the World.

The New York Film Academy is licensed by the New York State Education Department. The New York Film Academy is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). NASAD is the only accrediting body for visual art programs recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. A list of programs reviewed and approved by NASAD can be found here.

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Virtual Worlds & MMOs – Better for the Environment; Easier on the Wallet

Two of the biggest goals for people over the past couple years involve saving money and saving the planet. Both are obviously worthy goals, and fairly complex issues. But when it comes to entertainment, choosing Massively Multi-Player Online games (MMO) and virtual worlds over traditional video games can actually accomplish both.

Consider the sheer amount of stuff used to produce video games. There are the consoles (plastic, circuitry, wires, etc.), as well as the games themselves, and their packaging (plastic, metal, more plastic). All of which end up in landfills after just a few years of use. Now think about MMOs and Virtual Worlds. No packaging, no DVD, no console. Nothing that can get broken or lost and has to be replaced. True, one needs a computer, or at least access to a computer. But most of us have a computer that we use for many other tasks.

Now on to money. A traditional video game console costs upwards of $200. Video games themselves cost anywhere from $25-$60 a pop, on average. When someone grow tired of a game, they might get a few bucks back by selling it at a yard sale or on EBay, but chances are, it won’t fetch much, if anything. Think especially of kids – $45 per game, and they may grow bored of it in just a month or two. In addition, once the game has been conquered, when all the levels have been completed, that’s about it. Sure, you can play it again, but it’s just not quite the same. Virtual worlds and MMOs, on the other hand, change constantly; they expand and morph over time. Virtual worlds also tend to have more economical and flexible pricing – a whole year of many MMOs and virtual worlds costs about the same as one video game. Not sure if you’ll like it or not, or whether your child is likely to stick with it? One-month and/or six-month membership options – about the price of lunch at a fast food restaurant – are generally available.

The intangibility of virtual worlds and MMOs seems to make some people a little uneasy, as if they should not spend money on something that cannot be physically held. And yet that is precisely what makes them both environmentally responsible and a great value.

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Avatar – Part 3: Future of the avatar

Excitement continues to build for the theater release of James Cameron’s upcoming epic, “Avatar,” on December 18th. The film is a 3D science-fiction action movie starring Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a paralyzed Marine who becomes reborn as an alien species – his “Avatar.”

While it’s uncertain exactly how the movie intends to use it, Cameron’s use of the word “avatar” is probably different than the one we encounter in our industry and the hype surrounding the film inspired us to delve into the word itself. This three part blog series will explore the use of the word avatar as we know it, the origins of the word and the varying cases in which the word “avatar” has been applied.

The notion of the avatar has come a long way from the historical, religious sense to how we use them today in our online communications. The story of avatars and virtual worlds is far from over as technology and popularity of using an avatar continues to grow. The question we’re asking today is where does our concept of avatar go from here?

Avatar technology continues to grow in both 2D and 3D forms. Our avatars will share our expressions and represent us in ways that will cross the boundaries of real life and static, graphical representations. Avatar portability allows us to use the same graphical representation across multiple platforms, bringing our “other self” along to different destinations.

Even then, the use or definition of the avatar may not stop at the computer. CNN introduced (semi) practical holograms into the mainstream back in 2008. Recently, futurist Ray Kurzweil delivered the keynote speech at Germany’s Trendforum conference via holographic projection. How practical is this? Kurzweil himself predicts that by 2020 we will regularly interact in virtual environments and even be able to touch each other virtually.

On the future of technology in the virtual world space,Tim Leberecht explained it well in his article “Going human with Shy-Tech “Their common thread: technology in disguise, with front ends that are becoming touchable, intuitive, and human-centric. Mueller coined the term “Shytech” for this phenomenon: technology that can afford to be nonintrusive because it is fully immersive.”

Hologram avatars would still keep avatars in an intangible position, but consider James Cameron’s idea of an avatar. In “Avatar,” a human inhabits a physical body and controls it from a remote location. Earlier this year Honda demonstrated a brain-machine that could control a robot by thoughts alone. Much like the hologram, it is possible that one day we could meet up and interact as our robot avatars.

These are wild concepts and lead to some interesting discussion about what an avatar is and could be. The ideas we’ve discussed in this post do not cling to our stated definition of what an avatar is but it’s likely that the definition can grow just as much as the possibilities of avatars do.

Read More: Avatar – Part 1: Defining the modern avatar and Avatar – Part 2: Origins of the word

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Avatar – Part 1: Defining the modern avatar

Excitement continues to build for the theater release of James Cameron’s upcoming epic, “Avatar,” on December 18th. The film is a 3D science-fiction action movie starring Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a paralyzed Marine who becomes reborn as an alien species – his “Avatar.”

While it’s uncertain exactly how the movie intends to use it, Cameron’s use of the word “avatar” is probably different than the one we encounter in our industry and the hype surrounding the film inspired us to delve into the word itself. This three part blog series will explore the use of the word avatar as we know it, the origins of the word and the varying cases in which the word “avatar” has been applied.


Part 1 – Defining the modern avatar

While many folks are still confused by the term “avatar,” its use is becoming more widespread as culture and communication continue to move online. We will explore the various forms and applications of the avatar, but for this part of the series we will need to place a definition to begin our journey.

An avatar is a graphical representation of one’s self, personality or alter-ego while engaging in online communication.  Avatars can range from simple, static 2D graphics to complex, animated 3D forms controlled by the user.

We see avatars in many forms of online communication. AOL instant messengers are using avatars when they place a “buddy icon” next to their name. Forum users will often use a picture under their names to represent themselves on their posts. Even a social network user who opts for a cartoon or other image that is not their photograph is using an avatar. It can even be argued that an altered personal photograph is in fact an avatar since it is not an “actual” representation of the person.

These are the simpler uses of an avatar but a person’s self representation online can be manifested in more complicated forms in virtual world spaces. Perhaps the most enabling of area of avatar creation is Second Life, a 3-dimensional world created entirely by its users. There are almost no bounds to what a person can be in this world. A person can run around as a tiny rabbit, a giant robot or even just themselves. Areas like Second Life give online communicators an incredible reach of self-representation.

Avatars allow people to connect what they are reading (or hearing, as the case may be) with the person generating it. They allow faces and visuals to enter in to the conversation on a platform that is often nameless or faceless. Whether an avatar enhances or detracts from the communication, they certainly provide more dimensions for absorbing it.

Read more:
Avatar – Part 2: Origins of the word and Avatar – Part 3: Future of the Avatar

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National Geographic announces “Virtual World of Music”

National Geographic has announced today that they have teamed up with NDi Media to develop and distribute “Virtual World of Music.” While they haven’t released details of how users will be interacting in the world, it will be a multiplayer social gaming experience to be released in early 2010.

Users will use NDi Media’s Mixing Studio to create tunes using themes and beats from around the world. The platform has already been tested by kids to ensure that every song made will come out sounding good. National Geographic already has a series of mini-games and exploration tools on their site and will hopefully be taking things to the next level with this launch.

What is particularly exciting about this announcement is the possibility of integrating music discovery with creation and then being able to take it to an online community for discussion. Good music isn’t only created in the US and Britain and hopefully this project will allow music exploration along a wide range of cultures.

We’ve seen other kid’s virtual worlds base their ideas around music but none capture the scope of ability and education that this world seems to be offering. It’s too early to tell how the world will pan out and what level of engagement it will offer but the announcement leaves plenty of room for excitement.

-Chase

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Virtual world invites parents and kids to meet the people behind the magic

What if you went to Disneyland and Mickey Mouse took his head off, shook your hand and said “let me tell you about what we are doing here”? That is exactly what the kids virtual world Webosaurs will be doing today during a live event held inside the world.

As Webosaurs founder Jacques Panis plans to embark on a journey to South Africa with Webosaurs spokesperson and BBC wildlife expert Nigel Marven to film educational videos for the site, Webosaurs has invited children and parents alike to an in-world party where they can interact with artists, developers and the child safety experts from Metaverse Mod Squad.

Metaverse Mod Squad CEO Amy Pritchard and Chief Moderator Susan South will be among the attendees at today’s party, promoting the safety aspects of the site and interacting with the children along with other Webosaurs moderators that will be on-hand.

Pritchard believes the party will be important because, “from a parent’s perspective, their kids are in a real place with real people that care about them. It’s not just a cartoon game.”

Panis agrees.

“Tying in Metaverse Mod Squad is crucial to today’s event because we are showing parents that behind all of the beauty and fun there are real people who are very concerned about their family’s safety and online experience. These people are at the forefront of safety and security of online properties,” he said.

Since its inception, Webosaurs has promoted an environment where creators and users can interact and share their investment in the world. Panis, known in-world as “Flyboy,” is a regular fixture at Webosaurs events and makes daily visits to meet and talk with the children. Metaverse Mod Squad moderators are in-world just about every hour of the day guiding and helping the users while utilizing best practices to provide constant protection. I’m also a regular fixture in-world as my avatar “Rex,” listening to the users and attending to their needs directly rather than waiting for a customer service email.

In addition to these attendees, Art Director Justin Harder and Lead Developer Diego Cibils will be at the party as “JuiceKing” and “Colegate,” respectively. The event this evening will provide parents and children alike a chance to meet and talk to these people along with other Webosaurs artists. Panis believes this level of interaction is unlike any other found in virtual worlds for kids and he hopes today’s event will raise the bar on what Webosaurs provides to its users’ experiences.

“We see what the kids are doing out there with their blogs and the things they create. We want to inspire and show them that anything and everything is possible,” he said.

Creating a successful and engaging virtual world for kids is as much about pushing the level of interaction as it is about the “physical” product presented. While Mickey Mouse may never take his head off, Webosaurs is happily opening its doors to let parents and children see and meet the people behind the magic.

-Chase

Chase Straight is Metaverse Mod Squad’s Head of Community for Webosaurs. For more details on today’s event such as time and place, please visit the Webosaurs blog which is also maintained by Chase.

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Rocking the Metaverse introduces live music to Twinity

For about the last month, Koinup has been sponsoring the Rocking the Metaverse tour, the 1st ever cross-world music tour. Fittingly, the tour ended today in Twinity, making it the first ever live music event to hit the somewhat new virtual world. Twinity has a realistic take on virtual worlds, modeling its spaces after real world locations with the first being a replica of Berlin. A virtual Singapore and London are also on the way.

Dizzy Banjo rocks out in Berlin

Dizzy Banjo rocks out in Berlin

Second Life music stars Dizzy Banjo, Grace Mcdunnough, Slim Warrior and DoubleDown Tandino have been traversing the metaverse, bringing live music to Second Life, OpenSim, Metaplace and now Twinity. It’s been a groundbreaking tour, bringing fans of the musicians in Second Life across several virtual world platforms and now introducing the live music event to Twinity.

Folks in the virtual world business that I’ve talked to in the past sometimes speak of a future where there are no individual virtual worlds, just one main interface that all users connect to and interact. While this virtual “new world” will likely never come into existence as it is envisioned, Rocking the Metaverse is a good demonstration of a way that seperate clients can link and share content.

And as for Twinity, there is no news yet but I suspect the tour stop today will lead in to more live music events for the platform. Live music has been such a big part of the virtual world landscape that it seems only natural it should be brought into a fledgling one, especially one that is realistically modeled after real world locations. Imagine seeing your favorite band playing a concert in Singapore and you don’t even have to leave your laptop. While this may be the final stop for Rocking the Metaverse, it certainly isn’t the final stop in expanding the live music experience in virtual worlds.

Chase Straight

Music Community Manager

The Electric Panda Blog

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