Welcome back to the stage of history!

Sunny Koda is a concept artist from Australia who went to the US filming a Documentary about Gamer Culture. He went from Sand Diego to Vancouver, from Comic Con to PAX. Now he's following his dream of working in the daunting US Games industry. Will he make it? I hope so. Because I am that guy.

Friday, November 4, 2011

More like 10 shitloads

Looking back on recent posts it seems like I'm becoming the Grumpy Old Man of the gaming world. Good I say! Nuts to you all.

It's fair enough to say 'There's always going to be a cheap and nasty side to gaming' but it feels like rather than being the seedy underbelly or the politely ignored idiots that corruption is spreading. It's becoming the rule rather than the exception.

First let's look at these EB/Gamestop fuckers.

Sexism andinsulting stereotypes aside, this is an ad to convince you to basically give them your old games so they can sell them again. The store credit is negligible really. Gone are the days when you could trade in 42 PSX games for a PS2 on launch. Ever since I happily offered a kid twice the trade-in price for his copy of Powerstone 2 I've felt like there's something seriously wrong with game trading.

At PAX last year they explained how games are ready to be sold online but Gamestop threaten to stop carrying their hardware, which is why those stores still exist: blackmail. They are a redundant leach on the games market, one with a deadly effect. If half the people who buy a game from a store were to buy it second hand, that doubles the stores profit and halves the developers profit. The stores just annoy you, try to rip you off, and dictate how and when you can buy games while the developers actually MAKE THE DAMN GAME. In an age where word of mouth, television and the internet form a powerful advertising net and people of all ages comfortably trade online there is no need for a store front. HMV? iTunes. Blockbuster? Netflix. Gamestop? Steam/XboxLive/PSN.

Now on to a threat not to the industry, but to the gamers themselves.

That is a link to something IGN call Babeology.

Babeology [beɪbˈɒlədʒi]
Some terrible excuse for quasi-nerd fantasy fap material that actively drives a wedge between male and female gamers. Largely used to increase website hits. While it's true that 'Sex sells' I feel like this kind of crap, along with 'girl gamers' like the Fragdolls and virtually every female games tv host gives a wholly unrealistic (and honestly undesired) model of female gamers. At least on tv they have equally vapid meat-headed men to stand alongside and read terminology off a teleprompter but I don't exactly see a section for girls with male models dressed as pokemon. Oh and if I see one more girl posing naked with a plastic guitar I am going to snap like my GH2 Explorer controller variant.

Thanks (or damn you!) to Joshua Muller for the links.

I find myself writing this on one of my last nights in California on my -second- trip to America. I didn't film much more for the documentary this time, but I did do a lot more networking (which is crucial), went to Blizzcon, and Luke [aka Mr--Jack] has taught me how to paint like a pro. A favour for which I will forever be in his debt.

I'm not sure if my blog reflected it, but the highlight of my last trip was meeting one Chris Allsopp. he is basically me but English and being so vein I immediately fell for his nervous charm. He considers me an uncouth Australian which is refreshing, considering I am probably one of the most couth Australians. But I don't tell Chris, he'll find out when he comes to my wedding next year.

Enough for now. Although I can say that after a long pause to work on my painting and organise a second trip to America I am ready to talk once again about making a documentary and being a true gamer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nice jump, human


Last night whilst riding my bicycle home from work I had an idea.

My name is Sunny Koda, I'm a 27yo Concept Artist living in Melbourne Australia. I like metal, art, films, eating, rock-climbing and meeting cool people. I love playing games.

My lease and my work contract both end in July and I've been planning a trip to California to attend San Diego Comic Con and visit a couple of friends (a talented young Blizzard employee and an old friend up in Silicon Valley). My main reason for going is to get a feel for the community and business over in the US where I'd love to get a job in the future. But now I've been struck with the spirit of adventure! I really don't have much money, but wouldn't it be awesome to hang out in the US right through to the Penny Arcade Expo at the beginning of September? As a gamer that would be totally win.

Then I struck upon the idea of couch surfing, an affordable way of remaining in the US for the entire month of August. But I don't just want to subsist for a month, I want to do something cool! So here is the plan....

I'm making a Documentary celebrating Gamers, Games and the Gaming Industry through an adventure narrative!

I'm going to see if I can convince 30 odd people who love games to offer me their hospitality and their perspective to document the ultimate gaming experience. Yeah! I'll try to stay with a different person each day and share with them views of games, gaming culture and really find out what being a gamer means to them. Perhaps each host can show me their all-time favorite game and in return I'll do some gamer art for them and they can appear in my documentary representing their game and locality.

I like this idea.

It's been over a year now since this idea sprung into my head. Things have certainly changed. But this morning I finally saw the story that would turn this pile of ones and zeros into something watchable, into entertainment itself.

I want to put some focus on the making of the documentary:

Gamer as idea to travel and make doco, gamer plans things.

But then loses his job (focus on how tenuous the industry is) and spirals into despair.

Gamer goes ahead and packs his bags without any money, relying on the kindness of gamers.

The adventure begins!

California - USA, land of opportunity
Hanging with Luke & Chris
More Food
Nerd Market
San Diego - Nerd culture and the need for gamer's own identity
Comic Con
zomg Gabe & Tycho

San Fransisco - The gamers
Lauren + Patrick
Steph + Tristan

Portland- Gaming as a community
Ground Control
Retro Expo
Kristin's small-town gang

Seattle - train from cali, PAX: the gathering
The mehicans
PAX Train
Ty and 'friend of Ty' (name? Ty help me out here!)
games media, the culture realised

Vancouver - communication between industry and gamers.
Mitch + Em
Vancouver is beautiful
Games stores, Halo midnight Launch
Game testing, working in the industry

Home - the past, the future, my sweet new guitar.

raj pay attention!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

You're gonna kill my dick?

More mildly offensive trash. All the appeal of 'Teenage Dirtbag' (which I did listen to at the height of my teen-angst, Mena Suvari...) with a much narrower audience. Who is this aimed at anyway? Who would listen to this?

At PAX I passed the line for Jonathan Coulton. He was headlining the night's prescribed entertainment, but I was on my way to the MTG Mirrodin Party with the real nerds. Comedians get away with performing preschool-level songs because they're really a medium for the humor that is their trade. What are musicians who forgo skill for gimmickry selling? I suppose they are trading in popular culture.

In-jokes have evolved into 'meme's, whose entire purpose is to create a feeling of tribal inclusion by excluding those that don't 'get it'. When they drop a line about a certain level of a certain game that you have played you think 'hey, s/he's played it too!' and feel both validation and belonging. It comes down to something of a pep-rally. A vibe that PAX in it's entirety emanated.

'We are the same, we are a community. We haven't met before, yet we share so much.'

This isn't a bad thing, in fact it's a fantastic feeling. It's perhaps the core of my documentary and the highlight of my travels. But is the frenzied affirmation any different to that of a sports or religious fanatic? Perhaps only in it's innocence. Sports focuses on victory over rivals and religion on virtue through worship. Games are about play and interaction at a nascent level. No one is vilified and at worst outsiders are seen as those that 'don't get it' and always as welcome n00bs.

I've been silent for a while for a number of reasons. Firstly it's difficult to write when no one is really reading. This becomes a dump-site for my opinions and thoughts and only when I have the need to expel such emotion. I've been busy with paid work lately which was been very awesome for my career but not so much for the documentary, still languishing in editing limbo.

I watch and re-watch the footage, looking for a story. Story writing is something I don't have enough experience in. I've absorbed enough film/books/comics/television to put together some great moments but the secret to a strong narrative and an overarching plot slip through my fingers times and time again. I'm also trying to outline the plot of a graphic novel which will perhaps find it's way into this blog as it's many cables and wires worm through my cortex.

Lastly with the Dickwolves controversy rearing it's head once more I've tried to restrain from writing about it. Nothing I say is going to have any positive effect on the non-issue and so it's best left to blow over. I expected it to come out at PAX when I was there but it seems only now that it's boiled over. All I can say is that arguments can get muddy when they aren't clearly defined. One side defends women's rights, the other Penny Arcade. But they were never conflicting entities to begin with.

Last fortnight a good friend made the arduous journey to visit me way out in the countryside. He stayed for a few days and in that time we managed to assemble no less than five 'Commander' (formerly EDH) Magic decks and complete Dead Space 2 and Bulletstorm in their entirety. A mighty effort indeed. Dead Space 2 was reserved for the night and it did not fail to follow the first game in being terrifying on every level. I don't normally enjoy survival horror games but this one I do for two main reasons.

First I was one of the few who was excited enough to pre-order the first game knowing it would be an instant sci-fi staple, and a milestone* for EA as their first R rated franchise and an original in-house-developed title. For this reason playing the game was powerful gratification for my ego as it is excellent. Secondly the game design is so genius it had me guessing and double guessing at every corner in an endless battle of wits. It was like I was competing against the designers directly, trying to figure out how each room would go down and knowing they would use fear to control me.

For example; the deepest darkest corners usually had rewards for bravery stashed away but sometimes they would be soured by monsters or empty boxes. Just often enough for you to question the value of trying. A body springs to life and attacks you, but it doesn't happen again until the very point you become tired of checking every corpse and then, as if the game senses your complacency, boom! Some moments are so spectacular that I felt like I was at the design meeting, ready to applaud the employee who pitched the concept.

At all times I was glad to have someone to turn to and share a collective look of terror and excitement.

Bulletstorm was the antithesis. Crude and well... crude. However after complaining about every stumbling line of gear-of-war-grade dialog and shortcoming of the controls we began to enjoy the game for what it was. Interactive cartoon murder on an epic scale. Talk of 'Dick-killing parties' and fruit-related decapitation become hilarious once the tone is set and all expectations are set aside. And so, barring the complete and utter gameplay failure of a remote controlled Mecha-Godzilla, we trundled through the game laughing heartily at every swear-word and nut-shot.

I did some design work for a friend on a sci-fi pilot called Barrier last year and now I'm working on something new with him. He has some great ideas solidly grounded in the works of classical science fiction (before one dared abbreviate) and I'm happy to be involved. The reason I mention this is because in my annual anime catch-up I got all excited about Redline, a new film that won't be out 'till September:
When I say new, it's been in production for the better part of seven years. So you know it's going to be good. Duke Nukem good. The art style is amazing, the subject matter intriguing (I thought Speed Racer was great purely for the editing and style, it actually looked fast) yet not unfamiliar. My favourite episode of Astro Boy was the race episode (The White Planet?) and I still remind people that Yogi's Space Race did in fact exist.

The girls who've served me at games stores a) don't know anything about or even play games and b) are generally more useless than the guys. Sad but true.

*I had to double-check whether to use the word Milestone, Watershed or Hallmark here. All nonsense words with interesting etymology

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

If this is all a dream...

then don't wake me up.

It's 5am. I had a dream that films were now distributed to cinemas digitally, and that directors could continue to edit films and patch them after their release. "How was Tron?" "eh, the latest patch ruined it..." or "How could you like Tron!?" "You should watch it again, it's gotten much better since release." In my dream I saw Inception again only to find an additional scene had been added explaining whether the movie was a dream and JGL had been completely replaced by NPH. Needless to say it really ruined the film.

When I think about the way video games are distributed, released, sold and controlled and compare it to any other medium I can't help but be angry. Do you think people would tolerate having their films edited for Australian audiences?* Or books not being sold in your country because their was no translation deal? Oh this album is $30 in the US, but for the same songs in NZ you have to pay $110... Perhaps DLC is a way for studios to work around stringent release schedules set out by producers, but it feels like a slippery slope that leads to a compromised product that still releases for full retail price.

I also had a dream about the college Wargames Club contacting me because they wanted to sell off the Warhammer 40k miniatures and books I had donated to them years ago. In the dream their treasurer carefully went over the remaining 'assets' and emphasised their lack of real market value. My teen years labors ultimately weighing in at around $3,000**. I know this dream was sparked by something my father said over Christmas. My parents often bring up what a shame it was that I made a large charitable donation (absolutely all of my stuff, down to the paints and dice), after all the time and effort and misguided love I put into those hundreds of figures. When I did it I felt really good about it, but seven years of 'good parenting' have made me feel miserable about my loss of material possessions. Particularly on a day like today, when I'm trying to plan a wedding with $7 in the bank and a documentary idling in edit.

Something that identifies gamers, that sets them apart, is their ability to take their time and invest it in play without hesitation. 75 hours on Rogue Galaxy? 75 hours of my life where I was doing what I love; Awesome. My parents look at the time invested in my hobby and try to see some kind of financial gain but the truth is that every minute I spent bend over my hobby desk was not spent working; it was entertainment. Sure it was creative, otherwise it would feel like a waste of time, but it's only insulting to try and put a price on the time I spent simply enjoying myself.

I'm having a similar issue right now (and I'm sure a lot of people can relate to this one) with Warhammer Online. The game is entering it's autumn (fall) years and even the US server I'm on is looking pretty boring. Some of my guild have moved to the European servers where the game is still fresh and the population very high but horrid lag discourages me from following. Most of the other guildies have unsubbed and are waiting for the release of ToR. But being a little more casual I've only just gotten my characters up to the top (not including the level cap increase they recently added GG) and it feels like a waste after all this time not to enjoy the power I have ground out. At least for a while. But I hear stories from friends selling characters to EU players for decent amounts of money, money I could really use, and this then forces me to take a look at that account and decide what's more valuable. $250, or being able to hold the fruits of my leisure time in my hand instead of just a memory? But just like my miniatures, the potential to pick up and play is always there. Reconciling that with the reality that I won't is the hardest part.

*Okay I realise a lot of television gets edited for US audiences, but I also know that the people who really like the shows/films *ahem* work around that.
**Based on Games Worshops truly evil inflation of prices, to replace my collection today would be something more like $15-20k