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Mollie Patterson
If this is all that life has to offer me, then I can do without.
If this is all that life has to offer me, then I can do without.

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Donating my Xbox

Today I donated my Xbox 360 Elite to Goodwill. It represented a time in my life as a developer that I'm not overly proud about living.

I worked for a couple years designing games at Microsoft. It is honestly difficult to say the exact group I was in since the organization was hit regularly by massive reorgs and general management failure.

This was the era right before Kinect and there was an effort underway to broaden the audience to extend beyond the 'big black boy box' brand that so defined the original Xbox. Ultimately, the anemic outcome of this great leap forward was a handful of resource starved trivia games and gameshows. But the dream of bringing socially positive games to more people really appealed to me.

I was an outsider. When I used a console, it was likely to be one built by Nintendo. My design direction tended towards non-violence and cuter, gender neutral designs. I really enjoyed (and to this day still do) original mechanics and will trade cutscenes for gameplay in a heartbeat. Strategy over button mashing! My earliest influences stem from the Amiga and early PC titles, not the regurgitation of a roller coaster known as Halo.

The capital of the console ecosystem
In many ways, a gig at Microsoft was a career peak for many developers I worked with. Since childhood, they had played console games, worked at console companies and then finally made it to the platform mothership from which all their life's work was originally born. The repeated mantra was "The things we do here will impact millions." The unsaid subtext was "millions of Gamers just like us."

It was also a cultural hub. You worked there because you were a gamer. People boasted about epic Gamer Scores and joked about staying up multiple days straight in order to beat the latest release. The men were hardcore. The management was hardcore. The women were doubly hardcore. To succeed politically in a viciously political organization, you lived the brand.

You got the sense the pre-Xbox, gamers as bros was a subculture within the nerdy hobby of games. Over two console generations, a highly cynical marketing team spent billions with no hope of immediate payback to shift the market. Nintendo was slandered as a kids platform, not a leading light. Xbox put machismo, ultra-violence and chimpboys with backwards caps in the spotlight. Wedge, wedge, wedge. Gamers were handed a pre-packaged group identity via the propaganda machine of a mega corporation. For those raised post-Xbox, this workplace was the unquestioned birthplace, the Mecca. Dude. They made Halo.

Cognitive dissonance
I'm okay with not fitting in. Over many years I've gotten comfortable being an alien floating in a sea of Others. There weren't a lot of computer-loving digital makers in rural Maine in the 80s. I spend most of my days dreaming of an intricate systemic future where things are better. It is a state of constantly being half a second out of phase with the rest of the world.

Still it was a challenge being in an group that knew intellectually they had to reach out to new people while at the same time knowing in their heart of hearts that just adding more barrels to a shotgun was the fastest path to gamer glory. Talking with others in the larger organization would yield a sympathetic look. "Someone has to deal with those non-gamers. Sorry it has to be you. Bro."

I am not actually a bro. Don't tell anyone.

We made adorable hand-drawn prototypes and watched them climb through the ranks only to be shot dead by Elder Management that found cuteness instinctually revolting.

Correct games
There is a form to modern console games. If you've played the recent Bioshock Infinite, you can see the full glory of the vision.

First there is a world rendered in lush 3D. This justifies the hardware.

Next are intermittent dollops of plot. These are voice acted because it is a quality signal. They feature intricately modeled characters on a virtual stage. This gives the arc narrative momentum and lets you know you've finished something meaningful.

Filling out the gaps in the 7-12 hours ride are moments of rote game play with all possible feedback knobs tuned to 11. Blood, brains, impact. Innovation is located at 11.2. This makes you feel something visceral.

Each element of this form is refined to a most perfect formula. There are crate-raised critics who make subtle distinctions between the 52 historical shades of grey. There are documents and research. If you are a creative working at or within a publisher, your higher purpose is to judge games based off their adherence to the form. The game is a product and consistency, much like that found in McDonalds fries, results in repeat purchases. You are someone with taste.

You police the act of creation. It is a job. It is a set of orders that come from above. It is your childhood dream.

Away, away
I no longer work at Microsoft. Instead, I started up Spry Fox and spend my dreamy days making odd little games. They barely have plots. They focus on player agency and more often than not sport cute 2D graphics. Very few can be won. None come in boxes. We don't even need to spend billions to get people to play them.

I'm driven by ideals that fit poorly with a highly gated console monoculture: What if games can connect people? What if they can improve the world? What if they bring happiness and joy to our lives?

Hardcore gamers, women, men, children, families, people that play no other games...they play these personal, quirky games of ours. Yeah...we impact tens of millions. Deep down, I'm not sure if any of them are people like me.

So far, none of these games have been released on the Xbox. There's little economic or cultural fit with the artificially propped up tribe residing in that cloistered warren.

So goodbye, big black box. I never really liked what you stood for.

take care,

For those lucky folks in Europe, here's what you'll be getting for free in March via PS+ (I'm including both PS3 and PS Vita):

March 6 ... Mass Effect 3 (replaces Sleeping Dogs)
March 6 ... Dead or Alive 5 (replaces Vanquish)
March 6 ... Joe Danger 2 (replaces Limbo)

March 13 ... Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (replaces WipEout 2048)
March 20 ... Puddle (replaces Lumines: Electronic Symphony) 

XSEED Games today announced that they're bringing two more Japanese Vita games to North America: Ys: Memories of Celceta (Fall) and Valhalla Knights 3 (Fall). And, of course, earlier in the week, Aksys Games announced a NA release of the Vita version of Muramasa: The Demon Blade.

Had a chance to play some of Killzone Mercenary tonight. The game is very impressive visually; sometimes it looks good, sometimes it looks amazing. Having not played many FPS titles on the Vita before today, getting used to aiming with the smaller Vita analog stick took a little getting used to.

I think after time to get familiar with the controls and how it feels, though, this has the potential to be a pretty big deal for those who are FPS fans. I certainly expect it to make up for Call of Duty: Declassified. grin

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Corpse Party: Book of Shadows now has an official date (Jan 15th), and official price ($19.99), and a new trailer! This is the follow-up to Corpse Party, a really fantastic horror game that came out for the PSP back in 2011. Book of Shadows will be fully Vita compatible when it hits next week.


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Vita sale going on at Best Buy:

FIFA Soccer 13 - $24.99
Mortal Kombat - $9.99
Uncharted: Golden Abyss - $29.99
Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified - $34.99
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 - $19.99
Ridge Racer - $19.99
Gravity Rush - $19.99
Street Fighter X Tekken - $24.99
Silent Hill: Book of Memories - $24.99
Smart As... - $19.99

Demos for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed and Ogarhythm are coming to the US PSN on Tuesday, so if you've been wondering about either, you'll get the chance to check them out soon!

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Sony is currently selling the 32GB Vita memory card for $60. Not sure how long the deal will last; you have to add it to your cart to see the full discount.

Here's the full list of Vita-related titles from the second of three weeks of Sony's holiday sale:

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational Vita (Sale: $12.49, PS Plus: $8.74, Regular: $17.99)
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection PS Vita (Sale: $24.49, PS Plus: $17.14, Regular: $34.99)
Retro City Rampage PS Vita (Sale: $10.49, PS Plus: Free, Regular: $14.99)
Unit 13 (Sale: $18.49, PS Plus: $12.94, Regular: $26.99)

#psn #playstationstore

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For anybody interested in it, Retro City Rampage is going on sale starting tomorrow (no doubt as part of the next wave of holiday deals). You get both the PS3 and PS Vita versions for $9.99, so not a bad deal!

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