Grand Theft Auto V's first person prostitution, The Daily Mail, Twitter, and moral outrage by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Here's some irony: I was the subject of some minor moral outrage yesterday because some other people incorrectly believed that I was morally outraged. So here is the series of events as I saw them:

I played Grand Theft Auto V for the PlayStation 4. I was testing the limits of the first person mode, and so I was going around seeing what was and was not actually included. I was most interested to see what would happen if I picked up a prostitute. I'm not entirely sure I've ever done that in a GTA game before, but I know what happens. I expected the camera to pull out behind the car and for it to bump around and then we're done. Simple, easy, now I know.

But that's not what happens. What happens is, quite frankly, kind of disturbing.

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Interview with Pawel Miechowski, writer at 11 bit Studios, developer of This War of Mine by Alec Kubas-Meyer

A couple months back, I wrote an article about 11 bit Studios' soul-crushing war sim This War of Mine for The Daily Beast. As I usually do, I reached out to the developer to get an interview. Scheduling conflicts (and radically different time zones) meant it didn't end up happening before the story went up, but lead writer Pawel Miechowski was kind enough to answer some of my questions afterwards even so. There's a little bit of a language barrier (11 bit Studios is based in Poland), and though I made some minor spelling fixes, I left his responses mostly untouched.

Why was the video game medium the best one to tell the story of This War of Mine?

Because of its interactivity. As brilliant as movies and books can be, they put you in a role of a spectator. If you consider games as a storytelling tool capable of picturing all kind of stories: fun, action, entertaining, drama and even tragedies, they may be perfect for it. Games put you in the middle of experience, make you the narrator, you can even be a spectator and actor in one.

How much of the game is randomized vs scripted?

It's a mixture - you may get a random group of civilians, how many days war may last, and what locations you visit, and yet all of these is partially dependent on how far you've managed to survive last time.

How different, generally, are multiple playthroughs from each other?

That relates a bit to a previous question, because the further you get, the more story becomes shaped by your choices.

I assume you track metrics. How many days do most playthroughs last?

19% percent of the players survived the war, however you never know when it ends. You need to survive at least few weeks. 

The game isn't really "fun" in a traditional sense, and I assume that was by design. But how did you walk the fine line of keeping the occasionally tedious mechanics from overwhelming the impact of your actions?

Everything in TWoM has been done around idea that it should reflect reality of war as a game in its entirety. Sometimes war is boredom, and sometimes it brutally tests you, or your moral compass. 

What do you want players to be thinking/feeling when they're playing the game?

That they took part in a drama story of civilians in a trapped city. That they feel it may be a story about them someday. 

What do you want them to be thinking/feeling after they've turned it off? 

That war can happen anytime, anywhere. When it happens, you're going to be put to a worst test in life. War is not super-fun shooting.

You mentioned Papers, Please in an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun. I got a little bit of a PP vibe while playing (even though they're very different games). Was that game an inspiration for you, and how do you feel about that comparison? 

Yes, Papers, Please was on a level of "how games can tackle serious topics / raise empathy" a major inspiration. We've been already working on TWoM for almost a year when I saw PP. Michal Drozdowski - creative director at 11 bit - who's a main person behind TWoM, played PP a lot and forced us to check it, and yes - it's been great experience. It joins light and fast gameplay with heavy narrative about the family in perfect way. 

What do you see as the future of "serious" games like This War of Mine?

There are already many very promising projects in pipeline. I believe that games now will cover more and more areas of storytelling. And if you use parallel to movies, I expect to see great comedies, action stories, but dramas as well. Why not?

Why we turned to Kickstarter to fund our film by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I'm making a short film with my friend and co-director Gerard Chamberlain. It's called Reel, will feature crazy martial arts action, and I think it's going to be really cool. But almost as cool as the film is the way we've decided to fund it: Kickstarter. If you'd like to read more about the film, I encourage you to check out our Kickstarter page. But this isn't about Reel. It's about our decision to ask friends, family, and total strangers alike to help us pay for it.

When Gerard first approached me with the idea for Reel  one sparked by a conversation we had had months prior  he told me he wanted to do a Kickstarter. It's a sentiment I've heard from a lot of different people, and I can't help but feel like it's turned into something of a cliche. Instead of being a new and interesting way to put yourself and your work out there, it's become just another avenue for filmmakers, wannabe or otherwise.

But the thing that makes Kickstarter so compelling isn't the money but the community. The money's nice (and the point, at least in the short term), yet it's the way that every person who puts down money becomes invested in your project that makes it so unique. Not invested in a literal sense but an emotional one. Even putting down just $1 for some Ethereal Appreciation and overly long backer updates written at an ungodly hour is a sign that a person cares about the project in some small way. Or maybe they're just curious. On Kickstarter, that $1 satiates curiosity. But it's not until $5 that a backer receives anything of any value. And even then, it's just their name on a website.

But those people are every bit as important as the people who back us in return for actual goods, tangible or otherwise. Everything we do is for them.

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My interview with Desert Golfing developer Justin Smith by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Justin Smith (Twitter handle @manbearcar) is an interesting guy who makes interesting games. Most recently, he made the extremely interesting game Desert Golfingavailable now for iOS and Android devices.

And it really is extremely interesting, both on the surface and below. I wrote about the game for The Daily Beast, and that article is the closest I have ever come to writing a piece of New Games Journalism, as defined by Kieron Gillen a decade ago. But there were some things about the game that I wasn't quite sure about, so I reached out to its developer and we set up a short email interview. (I generally dislike email interviews, but that is usually because marketing people sanitize them. Since this was just a one-man thing, that didn't seem so bad. Plus, I hate transcribing, so it worked out.)

I used a few of the things he said in my article, but he said a bunch of things that I found fascinating that I didn't use, so here is the interview, reproduced in full (plus a few of my own thoughts about his responses):

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My weekend with the Freefly Movi M5: Impressions by Alec Kubas-Meyer

My absence these past several months can be described simply: I have been making a movie. But now that principal photography has completed, I've got a little bit more time and wanted to discuss some aspects of the production itself. To date, the most popular post on this blog has been about my time with BlackMagic's Cinema Camera 4K. Whenever I look at the stats for this site, that story has always gotten at least a few hits. But what that tells me is that people are always looking for impressions of certain equipment/experiences, so I figured it was probably worth writing about my time with Freefly's Movi M5 handheld stabilization unit. For our shoot, we rented a whole bunch of equipment from BorrowLenses, including an M5. 

Early on, we had a conversation with our Director of Photography who said the best thing we could possibly get would be a stabilizer of some kind, and that he recommended that even over professional lighting equipment. And because I have wanted to try out a Movi since I first saw a video about one a few years back, that seemed like the way to go. (The rental price also dropped drastically between our original intent and the time we actually reserved it, which didn't hurt.) Our shoot lasted six days. Of those days, we used the Movi on two... the first two. One of the days we decided against using any motion at all and the other three we used a shoulder mount instead.

We had the Movi with us on set every day, but we ended up just setting it aside regardless. Because the M5 is amazing, but it's frustrating as hell.

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Feminism, misogyny, and the issue of men writing about video game sexism by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I don't write about feminism or women's issues or anything like that, specifically because I'm not a woman.

There was an article on The Daily Beast last Friday about misogyny in video games. It's an interesting article, though it misses some things. It's an issue that I've considered pitching to the Beast on multiple occasions. I've even written out that pitch a couple of times, but I've never sent it. Why? Because I'm not a woman.

Even writing this feels like some sort of hack job, because I can only comment as an outsider looking in. The #Yesallwomen movement earlier this year was proof of that fact. I don't know what it's like to be a woman, and I can't pretend to understand what it's like to literally receive death threats for being one.

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Thirty Flights of Loving, Portal, and a celebration of short-form video games by Alec Kubas-Meyer

In the time it took me to come up with this first sentence, I could have played through Blendo Games’s Thirty Flights of Loving twice. Thirty Flights of Loving is the sequel to 2008’s Gravity Bone, a freely available game that I played more than a few times back in the day, and it shares a lot in common with that game (a copy of which is included in Thirty Flights’s executable). But fascinatingly, it feels like a step back while also being a giant leap forward. Whereas Gravity Bone had items and a basic inventory kit that served some minor little puzzles, Thirty Flights of Loving has WASD and a “Use” key. It’s shockingly simplistic, but it has aspirations of grandeur. 

The game’s trailer bills itself as a “video game short story,” and that’s a brilliant way to describe it. It’s a jam-packed fifteen minutes, full of intrigue, chaos, and directed narrative. But what’s most interesting is how little of the greater narrative there is: In those fifteen minutes, a whole lot of things happen, and you the player are privy to almost none of them. The story is told without words or voices; it’s just a series of not-clearly-related events and it’s up to you to figure out what they all mean. You’re in a place. Now you’re getting into a plane. Now someone you thought was on your side is pointing a gun at your head. There’s blood everywhere.

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Let's talk about E3 2014: Nintendo's Digital Event by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Ask anyone what the biggest surprise of E3 was and they will almost invariably tell you it was Nintendo's Digital Event. Nintendo had to prove to the world that the Wii U was a viable console, something that they would want in their living room to go beside their Xbox One or PS4 or whatever. Nintendo consoles have long been second boxes, something you have just to play the exclusives. Third parties have all but abandoned Nintendo for the past four generations, but Nintendo has some of the most talented developers in the world under their wing and they consistently (though infrequently) put out some of the best games. 

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Let's talk about E3 2014: Sony's Press Conference by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Sony's press conference this year was always going to be a disappointment. It was impossible to really follow up last year's brilliant showing, because last year was a perfect storm of their new hardware announcement mixed with the incompetence of their competitors. With Microsoft's reasonably acceptable conference this time around, there was simply no way for Sony to crush them again. And they didn't, but that's not to say Sony didn't have a good showing, because they did... it just wasn't that good. Sony's biggest problem was length. Microsoft's conference was around 90 minutes and Nintendo's (which I'll get to tomorrow) was half that. Sony's ran nearly 2 hours, which was... too much. They showed a lot of things, but the momentum was totally lost in the middle when they began to focus on the PlayStation TV and whatnot. That was when games, games, and more games became talk, talk, and boredom. In general, the presentation could have used some serious tightening, because that could have brought it from pretty good to downright awesome. Because they were showing some pretty cool stuff.

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Let's talk about E3 2014: Microsoft's Press Conference by Alec Kubas-Meyer

For most intents and purposes, E3 is over. Today is the last day, but there's not going to be much (if any) news coming out of the event, and the remaining previews could be interesting, but likely won't make any major impact on anybody's impression of the show. So let's talk about it. And let's go in order of appearance (at least for the big three). First up: Microsoft. Microsoft had a lot to prove. The Xbox One reveal was overshadowed by the always-online controversy and the way more interesting Sony conference. They stumbled out of the gate where Sony soared, and with the recent reveal of a Kinect-less system, the Xbox One seems to be less and less like the futuristic piece of hardware that the company envisioned (and that I had tepid praise for when I reviewed it back in November).

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Tablet ports, smaller screens, and the 7" Aaaaa! experience by Alec Kubas-Meyer

One of the most intense video games I have ever played is Dejobaan Games’s AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity. It’s a skydiving simulator of sorts, and when things start to speed up and obstacles get packed closer and closer together, it becomes a uniquely exhilarating experience. And that exhilaration is something I really haven’t gotten elsewhere. It’s gotten a semi-sequel in the form of AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome (which is easily my most anticipated VR game experience once I get my hands on an Oculus Rift), and as I learned recently, a port to mobile devices. I was looking around the Google Play store and saw that AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – Force = Mass X Acceleration was on sale for 99 cents. Generally, I don’t buy or play games on either my phone or tablet, but I figured I should make an exception here. So I booted up my first generation Nexus 7 and downloaded the game. 

It’s much like I remember, except instead of WASD+mouse it uses tilt controls, which is an interesting choice. Using an accelerometer as the primary method of control can definitely work, but unlike, say, Ridiculous FishingAaaaa! Requires a person to be static and also be hunched over. (The device has to be essentially flat horizontal for the tilts to be read correctly.) Ridiculous Fishing, because it’s only concerned with one axis of motion, can be held any which way, and while playing in a car is not ideal, it’s doable. Aaaaa! Is not. The extra axis being tracked means that any and all little bumps will register and the levels that require perfect precision are nigh unplayable. That being said, even though the tilt stuff is generally good and I’ve gotten into the flow of it a few times, it never feels quite as fluid as WASD. I have somewhat shaky hands, and I felt like a lot of deaths weren’t because I didn’t move in time but because the game didn’t accept my input in time. On the PC, I always felt like it was my own fault. Here, I could blame the device.

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A Review of the Moto X (2013) by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I’ve always thought of myself as a “power user,” whatever that was supposed to mean. I wanted bleeding edge tech and software, and was willing to put up with some instability to get it. For a long time, I thought that was as true of cell phones as it was of computers. I read numerous reviews of every phone/tablet/whatever released, especially ones. But I no longer salivate at the prospect of the strongest hardware, because I’ve realized that I don’t need the most powerful phone on the market. I need the most useful.

When the Moto X was announced, it seemed to fit that description. Top of the line then, and it’s definitely not top of the line now, but it still felt like the right phone for me. And that has a lot to do with how I use phones. So first, a little history:

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Infamous: Second Son, black-and-white morality, and the awkwardness of being an evil “hero” by Alec Kubas-Meyer

In Infamous: Second Son, you play a mass murderer named Delsin. You can play as a not-mass-murderer, but then you’re not playing the game right (it is called “Infamous,” after all). This is a game about a guy who gets super powers that allow him to kill pretty much every human he comes across with fire missiles that he shoots from his hands. It’s a totally awesome feeling, and the game is basically the epitome of a power fantasy, but there’s a problem with that, because the narrative tries to paint Delsin as something of an antihero when he is a straight up villain. The actual “villain” in the game is a woman (which is rare and kind of cool, in and of itself) who tortures people using her own superpowers. Sure, that isn’t cool, but the thing is, she’s not the one wantonly launching herself up into the air and killing dozens of civilians at a time. Delsin's doing that. And while it’s super cool looking and uses all sorts of fancy particle effects that show people why they should buy into the current generation of video game consoles, that’s you, the player, killing dozens of civilians (there’s a combo counter in the upper left hand corner that tells you for sure) at a time.

But you’re still the good guy.

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AI partners, stealth problems, subpar shooting, and ludonarrative interference in The Last of Us by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Why is it that, in The Last of Us, enemies can walk through Ellie’s crouching character model without noticing her or Joel? Because video games.

When I complained at length a couple months back about the painfully stupid line, “You can stealth your way through this, but I know that’s not your style,” I intentionally neglected to mention one of the biggest reasons it bothered me: because for someone whose MO is apparently “shoot first, ask questions later,” Joel is a pretty terrible shot. My complaints were focused on the narrative and character reasons why it made no sense, but now it’s time to talk about the gameplay.

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My weekend with the BlackMagic Cinema Camera 4K: Impressions by Alec Kubas-Meyer

For the last three weeks, I have been spending pretty much every waking hour (and most of my sleeping ones) involved in the production of two thesis films, one of which has wrapped principal photography, and the other of which has only just begun. The content of the films doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this (one is my own film, and I’ll probably be discussing that further down the line), but I wanted to talk a little bit about the experience I’ve had shooting, specifically this past weekend when I filmed with a BlackMagic Cinema Camera 4K. Over three days, I spent between 20 and 30 hours with the camera, so I feel like I have a decent grasp of what it is, at least enough to have some general thoughts about its successes and failings. So I’m going to talk about them. And I’m probably going to make it sound like I’m way more knowledgeable about this than I actually am. Especially in this first part. Also, still kind of sleep deprived, so this will probably ramble a bit more than usual... Hopefully it makes sense to the people who are actually going out of the way looking for something like this. It's almost like a review, except totally not in depth about the things people would be looking for in an actual review.


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