It's difficult, almost impossible to believe that two human beings could achieve such eternal happiness, such unequivocal euphoria. Such... perfection.
But the truth, dear readers, the truth is that this couple—this beautiful, radiant couple—is no couple at all. These two ecstatic video gamers died a long time ago. And now they're in a place that we dare not dream about.
Now they're in hell.
Your first clue? The background. Black. Pure, unadulturated black, only penetrated by the blue outlines of the boy and girl in front of it.
You know what else is black? Hell.
You know who else is blue? Ghosts.
This is no fun-loving couple. This is a horrible glimpse at the devastating fate of two tormented souls, forced to spend the rest of eternity battling one another on the virtual battlegrounds of Ridge Racer and Twisted Metal.
"But this couple looks like they're having so much fun," you might say, your hands quivering in desperation as you pray, wish, hope with all your strength that these two lovely people are as lovely as they seem. "They're not in hell! They can't be!"
Oh, how wrong you are.
See those looks of horror? Those stunned visages, pummeled with the realization that they'll never escape this eternal prison in which they're sequestered? Those short shorts?
"What... what is that?" the man asks, stifling a scream. Nothing is recognizable in this place. Nothing is human.
"No," the woman says, her voice shaky. "Don't look. Please. Please just don't look."
"This... this is true suffering."
Last week, we profiled the virtual life of Anders Behring Breivik, who says at one point he spent an entire year playing Blizzard's massively multiplayer online role-playing game for 16 hours a day. Following the publication of that piece, one of Breivik's former guildmates sent me this letter (under request of anonymity).
To clarify, the only guild that Breivik ever led was Virtue who were never close to being a rank 1 guild on Nordrassil EU. They were a social group who played the game in a social, non-competitive atmosphere. Breivik was able to gain influence in that guild and attempted (quite ruthlessly) to change the guild outlook to that of a competitive guild but ultimately failed with many members abandoning him. He joined Unit, the rank 1 guild, but was never in a position of leadership at any time during his membership.
After the latter guild moved to Silvermoon EU, he left them to join a guild called Nevermore. He, again, never held any kind of leadership position with them (that guild still exists and is led by the same person who has led it throughout it's entire 6 year history).
"Breivik has overstated his own status and importance within a videogame."
Breivik has overstated his own status and importance within a videogame. If he feels the need to do so in a fantasy environment, what does that tell you about his other claims e.g. successful businessman, stockbroker, high ranking member of an underground militant group etc? He is a fantasist. A very intelligent fantasist no doubt but a fantasist nonetheless.
Behind him lies a history of failed initiatives but he portrays a different reality. One that doesn't highlight the fact that he was living with his mother while in his thirties, the very epitomy of the "basement virgin" slur often thrown at people who play online video games extensively.
Yes I 'knew' him. Like everyone else, I thought he was relatively normal, although I often remarked that he seemed to have no life out with his existence in the game. He was unremarkable, not particularly outgoing and - for the most part - not very opinionated. There happened to be muslim immigrants who played in two of those guilds. He was particularly friendly with one of them, a Dutch Iraqi.
He was a good player but not exceptional. He didn't speak a great deal except during late night conversations and, again, was not very opinionated. He would listen more than talk. He was, in truth, quite socially awkward particularly around female players. Given his one and only opportunity to lead a guild, he failed to inspire any sizeable majority. I've no doubt that virtual reality will be mirrored here in the real world.
—A former WoW player
Chris Albeluhn's out of work, like all too many Americans. But instead of wasting time on Facebook or sleeping until 3 p.m. like I used to do when between jobs, Albeluhn made an interactive 3D map of the universe using the popular Unreal Engine. The out-of-work developer started raising funds on IndieGoGo and currently has enough money to hit a planned PC release for his space exploration program.
It's incredibly cool to look at and contains accurate astronomical data, to boot. Albeluhn has said that he'd like The Solar System to wind up in educational institutions and that's a good a reason as any to go and donate to his efforts.
Awesome Solar System App Uses The Unreal Engine [Game Informer]
Free-to-play games are all the rage here in 2012. With MMOs, social games, and mobile games leading the way, some analysts see the model as the inevitable wave of the future across genres. And given how very well freemium games seem to be doing, they might just be right.
The NPD analyst group's newest report confirms that, love them or hate them, the games are now a really big deal. 38% of the United States population, they report, currently play some kind of freemium game. That's an estimate of roughly 114 million people, give or take.
The data came from a survey of over 6000 American children and adults, and some of the report's other findings run against the current conventional wisdom. They found that while girls and women are, as expected, significantly more likely to play freemium games, male consumers are the ones more likely to pay real cash for virtual goodies.
Also, in contrast to earlier studies finding that only a very small percentage of users ever pay, this survey found that 40% of players had purchased in-game content at least once, and that 84% of players who try freemium games end up sticking with the genre.
There are few faster ways to cause a fight in a room full of gamers than to bring up anything relating to the "core vs "casual" debate, but as this report reminds us, the divisions aren't absolute. The casual, free-to-play marketplace may be the new kid on the block of video games, but it's big business and most of us will try it out at some time or another.
Even when you're at a a fan convention packed with wall-to-wall gamers, it can be hard to find people playing Sony's newest handheld. The fact that the Vita is so difficult to spot is just one bit of anecdotal evidence that the gaming portable is having a rough time. But does this mean it's time for the price of the Vita to get slashed? Not necessarily.
Over at Gamasutra, writer Chris Morris weighs the pros and cons of a price cut, saying that it would reflect poorly on newly appointed Sony CEO Kaz Hirai:
While a price cut seems logical to consumers at this point, it's a little more complicated for Sony. Kaz Hirai is still largely known as a PlayStation guy – and a price cut just two months after the system's U.S. launch would be viewed as a failure of that division. (Just look at the heat Nintendo president Satoru Iwata took when Nintendo slashed the 3DS's price.)
Having that public stumble less than a month into the job wouldn't help Hirai — and it wouldn't help Sony. That makes it a little less likely that we'll see an immediate official price cut for the Vita. Add in Sony's long history of putting off price cuts, even when sales are sub-optimal, and it's an even bigger longshot.
The article also speculates on when a lower price point may happen. Are you waiting for a cheaper cost to pick up a Vita? (You can check out Amazon right now.) Or is there a particular game that will make you take the plunge?
That was in 2009. He's had many more since, including batches of them every month throughout last year.
"They were creative," he recalls, thinking of the many people who sent them to him. "There's a lot of just hoping for self-death: choking to death, burning in a fire—the typical ways you can die that don't require them to put any effort forth.
"But there were plenty of the ones that would require them to put effort forth."
Receiving death threats was just part of the day job for Robert Bowling, who served as the creative strategist for lead Call of Duty development studio Infinity Ward during the series' rise over the last few years. He left the company after a seven-year stint in late March and is now the president of Robotoki Studios.
Bowling says he didn't take most of the threats seriously. Developers from around the world who were interviewed for this story said the same thing: the vile messages they receive calling for their death usually don't have the whiff of real, actionable intent to murder. They have nonetheless become common, lubricated by the ease of communicating online where he or she who is angry about a game finds release in threatening to kill their suddenly least-favorite game creators.
The death threats game developers receive are the expression of a small group of gamers who have taken their opinions to the extreme. They may not represent a gaming community's true feelings about a game. They have, however, ensured that as the people who create video games reach out to communicate with their fans, at least some of those fans will, rhetorically, try to draw blood. And if video game creators don't reach out? The angriest gamers will find them anyway.
People who make video games get threatened for the darnedest things, and not really for the kind of offenses that merit fatal retaliation. Maybe, for example, you're a successful game creator who doesn't want people to steal your game? Death threat time...
"I've received several death threats after the site giving out Minecraft for free shut down," the creator of the hugely popular and not-very-expensive video game Minecraft Tweeted earlier this month. "That is seriously not cool."
For Minecraft's Markus "Notch" Persson the offense there might at least have been tied to a skewed sense of financial entitlement by some non-paying customers. But what did game developer Chris Condon do to compel an angry gamer to start a Twitter feed full of such un-constructive feedback as [sic] "i hope We never Met in Real life or i kill you"? As best as Condon could tell, "the core of it was the fact that I was making a Facebook game." There was a fan of his browser-based game series The Last Stand who didn't like that and complained, got banned from Condon's forums, then launched that Twitter screed.
Condon had had other threats, mostly triggered by that same offense of moving his games to Facebook. "I've had a bunch over the years," he said. "I've been doing browser based stuff for about five years.. and that crowd can be rough, real rough. Especially when you make the move to social games: Oh, the seething anger."
Some developers whom I contacted said they've never received a threat. Others in the industry said it was common. We even get some here at Kotaku. Reporter Tina Amini did when she wrote about Jennifer Hepler, a writer at Mass Effect studio BioWare who was besieged by angry gamers who felt she did not value the interactive parts of video games as much as she did the story.
"I think your articles are very good," the e-mail to our reporter began in its subject line, before twisting in the body to "just kidding you are an enormous fagot, reddit is legion BITCH CUNT WHORE XDDD.. I will kill u bitch with reddit army get ready bitch." That e-mail arrived in February and like so many other of these threats just had to be met with an eye-roll.
"What I had to learn very early, is: ‘Alright, don't take this stuff personally," Bowling said. "They're clearly someone who is passionate. They are just very poor at expressing that passion. And if you look past that, you don't take it too seriously."
What happened after Paradox Interactive released the game Hearts of Iron 3 with more bugs in it than a publisher should tolerate? They patched the game. But, also: death threats. "We received at least three death threats to producers saying things like ‘you don't deserve to live after this mess' and ‘we know your home address is XXX'," Paradox CDEO Fred Wester told me. "We chose not to report any of these to the police, but it sure is unpleasant."
And what was one of the results of Sony Online Entertainment releasing EverQuest, besides success? One former employer said threats of violence from some gamers led the studio to hiring guards. A company spokesperson declined to comment.
Here's another, from a game developer of a massively multiplayer game, who asked to not be named: "In order to push updates to the game (which happened every few days), we had to shut down the server for about two minutes, giving the players ample warning beforehand. During one of my first times pushing updates, when I announced to the players that the game would be going down for a few minutes so we could add some sweet new combat features, one player responded with, ‘If you shut down the game now, I'll fucking kill you.'" Figure of speech? "I asked what the company policy was for responding to death threats, explaining the situation, and was only told, ‘Yeah. This is why [the CTO] doesn't like having our company's street address public.'"
The many death threats game creators receive don't seem to have ever resulted in violence, but, in some upsetting instances, they've gone beyond being a nuisance. For Bowling, the worst threats weren't the ones he got. The worst were the ones that were sent to his family. "When they started posting photos and messages about my two year old daughter, that's when I would start losing sleep," he said.
Bowling's experiences appear to have been more extreme than most, a result of his high-profile position as the go-to person on Twitter for anything related to the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games. He says he received more than a quarter-million mentions on twitter every two months of last year. He was also the subject of numerous YouTube videos, some praising him but many verbally beating him up. The worst of it came after a Call of Duty fan convention last September during which Bowling said that November 2011's Modern Warfare 3 would ditch the controversial Last Stand perk which was being abused by many players to derail multiplayer matches. He was cheered, but then branded a liar by vitriolic critics who discovered that MW3 would include a deathstreak called Final Stand, which functioned similarly to Last Stand but was obtainable under very different circumstances. "That was a large amount of fuel to the fire," he remembers. It enraged some fans so much that they started "doxing" Bowling, gathering up his personal information and posting it online.
"People were revealing my home address and my girlfriend's telephone number and doing things like that, and encouraging people to show up or send stuff or to call," he said. "People would actually follow up on that."
Bowling started receiving packages he didn't order. Wary of what they contained, he adopted a new policy: "anything that comes our way that is unsolicited basically just goes in the trash."
It doesn't appear that there is anything special about video games that compels its angriest fans to send threats. Bowling believes that any creative people in any medium would receive the same stuff, as long as they made themselves public the way he and others involved with gaming have. Age, however, may be a factor. He said that most of the most severe threats-the ones that Call of Duty publisher Activision's internal security team would take action on-came from underage gamers, fans technically too young to buy the M-rated Call of Duty on their own. "We would have an agent contact their family, he said, "and inform them of the type of communication they were sending, which was always very entertaining."
For all the aggravation, Bowling would take some of these complaints that were hidden within the threats back to the core team on the Call of Duty games. That was part of his job, he figured, to filter out the emotion in the feedback, isolate the core complaint and, if it was something that could and should be tweaked or patched, to let the designers know.
He remains convinced that some of his harshest critics, believe it or not, had good points to make. They just made them terribly.
If you fancy yourself becoming a big-name online video game personality, you should at least brace yourself. Bowling indicates that you'll know when the ugly stuff is coming. For him, it was like this: "We make an internal decision. Internal decision goes live. YouTube personality disagrees with the decision, makes video rallying the troops against the decision, troops go forth and figure out ways to express that disagreement. That process of finding ways to express the disagreement would typically be a series of trying to one-up each other. It would start with nasty messages online. It would turn into trying to hack my accounts." The hacking would trigger a battery of e-mails to Bowling regarding attempts to recover "forgotten" passwords. "Once they failed at that, the phone calls and e-mails and the next step of threats would come."
There is a happy twist to all this. The avalanche of negativity that leads to ugly, empty death threats sometimes flows in reverse. This happened for Bowling when he announced he was leaving his Call of Duty job. People on YouTube praised him (well, some of them did… not all!). That YouTube praise would lead to kind messages. "I would say I've received over 100 apology letters—-especially after I resigned—from people acknowledging that they sent me hateful things or death threats or various things and apologized for it."
After Minecraft's creator Tweeted about his death threats, he received his own avalanche of support.
The happiest fans just tend to be quiet. The nastiest? They'd be ostracized if they said this kind of stuff in real life, Bowling pointed out. They take power in firing their potshots online. "It was never my place to say, ‘Everybody look at these assholes,'" says Bowling, who simply never engaged most of the people who threatened him over the years. "Sometimes, it's just nice to hear other people agree that's not acceptable."
Our spies at Dealzon say "The PS Vita must be getting a good volume of returns at Amazon for them to offer such a low drop in pricing for used models." The WiFi model, refurbished is $162.49, free shipping. The cheapest you find it new is $250.
I've never been deer hunting. The words alone don't even evoke images of wearing orange vests and shooting animals, but rather, images of Christopher Walkin playing Russian roulette. Oh yes, there is deer hunting in that movie, but I don't really remember it. Does anyone?
So going into Deer Hunter Reloaded, I was subconsciously expecting Bob De Niro and extra bullets, but instead, I got "the most REALISTIC and AUTHENTIC hunting sim." Those aren't my words—they aren't my caps, either. That's according to the folks who made Deer Hunter Reloaded.
I haven't played many hunting sims, so I'm not one to judge. But I was actually surprised at how nice this game looks. It even plays well with various modes; there's a stampede mode, a straight-up hunting mode with slow motion bullet effects, and there's even an x-ray mode that enables you "to target specific organs".
If you are not one to shudder about going into the forest and shooting Bambi with x-ray vision, this is worth checking out. There's a free version, too.
Deer Hunter Reloaded [Free, iTunes]
And you thought motion control looked silly in your living room.
SKYWARD SWORDS AND SHIFTY SHIRTS!! [Mega64]