PETA ‘roast’ Super Meat Boy. Team Meat hit back.

Super Meat Boy is a downloadable platform game currently available on Xbox Live Arcade. It features a blob of meat, dubbed Meat Boy, navigating his way through levels spattered with blood, and filled with perilous circular saws, in order to save his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from the clutches of the evil Dr. Fetus. It’s a great deal of fun, and brings something so very unique and refreshing to the platforming genre.

As with all things associated with meat, PETA inevitably caught wind of this. Since then, they have produced their own parodied version of the game, titled ‘Super Tofu Boy’. Clever, huh? Those who know me are probably aware of my hatred of PETA and all it stands for, but this just takes the cake. Super Meat Boy is a fantastic game, and I have no clue what PETA are trying to achieve by attacking it. Perhaps they’re against indie game developers Team Meat making a name for themselves? Shame on them for trying to catch a break!

What angers me more is that I know that someone got paid to make Super Tofu Boy, which is practically a direct rip-off of Super Meat Boy. The only difference is that instead of playing as a blob of meat, you play as a blob of tofu. The game still tries to retain what made Super Meat Boy great, stealing its level design (most of which are in an abattoir-type setting), gameplay mechanics (which require you to rescue Bandage Girl in each level, just as in the original) and attempting to steal its jumping mechanics, too. They clearly put a lot of effort into this ‘parody’, to the extent where they hope to make it virtually indistinguishable from the actual Super Meat Boy. Someone also must have been paid a lot of money for this; money which I am quite sure could have been better spent elsewhere, promoting righteous causes in the quest to combat animal cruelty.

PETA, I assume, are trying to tempt more people into becoming vegan (it’s only plastered right next to the game window) by trying to ridicule Super Meat Boy with heinous ‘quips’ that it fires at you between levels, such as ‘LOL @ Super Meat Boy’s bad breath!’ Very convincing. What PETA have failed to recognise, probably the result of over-excited marketing execs on a sugar high from too many raw wholefood bars, is that the people most likely to play the game are those that actually know what Super Meat Boy is, who are the people most likely to not take on board PETA’s ridiculous ‘insults’, and ridicule this sham instead. I guess PETA never got that memo about flattery, and imitation, or something like that.

A few days ago, Team Meat struck back by tweeting, “How many PETA members does it take to change a lightbulb? None. PETA can’t change anything.” It’s a fair point. PETA should stop wasting money on ludicrous ventures like this, and start putting more of their funds into their outreach programmes, or at least something that has some chance of making a difference.

Honestly, stuff like this makes me cringe. Really, PETA? This is what you do with your time? Supporting Super Meat Boy isn’t supporting the meat industry any more than buying Dexter box-sets is condoning serial killing.


Market Research Surveys can learn a lot from RPGs

I’m sure at some point throughout our lives, we’ve all completed a market research survey. Surveys, generally, are a tool utilised by organisations or research agencies to find things out the public’s perception of something, whether it’s Wayne Rooney or wasabi peas. They’re handy because they’re relatively cheap to administer, compared to other forms of market research, and can easily provide some comforting numbers which say something about whatever product is being analysed.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of contemporary market research; surveys in particular. I do not profess to be a marketing expert, or a research buff, but there’s a growing trend of insurgency against the status quo of market research. Indeed, there are already a number of eloquent expositions of why market research doesn’t work, that are already out there. While (in my opinion), surveys don’t work, and are inaccurate, realistically, it’s sad to say that they’re not going anywhere fast. There are actions that can be taken, however, within the existing frameworks of market research surveys, that can serve to make such surveys more accurate. This is where RPGs (Role Playing Games, not Rocket Propelled Grenades, in case you were wondering) come in.

I’d like to start with a story. A couple of days ago, I filled out a market research survey. It was a cold, miserable day, and I was sad that I couldn’t go running. This all could have affected my mood, which could have understandably heightened, or had an effect on my responses to the survey I completed. There was one thing this survey was guilty of, though, which essentially forced me into giving inaccurate answers. This was poor research design.

Let’s break this down for a minute. A survey, generally, is a mass of questions that you answer about a certain product, or a certain product range, or market sector. Let’s say, for example, you were filling in a survey about chewing gum. Usually, at the beginning of every survey, there are a few verification questions that check that the survey you’re about to complete is relevant to you. It wouldn’t be far off the mark to assume that one of these verification questions would ask if you chew chewing gum. Personally, I have bought and chewed gum in the past, but don’t make a habit of it. However, in most cases, my answer would probably serve as an adequate response for the purposes of this survey. Getting past the verification questions would then trigger an onslaught of questions about every colour, shape, and flavour of chewing gum under the sun. In essence, I would be made to answer about chewing gum I had never used before, or had no prior experience with. If I am asked about how I would bring a certain brand of gum up in a friendly conversation, if I’m blatantly honest, I wouldn’t.

My own experience with surveys (I’m signed up to a service that e-mails me the things daily) has led me to believe that the common survey is all too linear for anything of worth to be derived from its results. Let’s return to my own survey I completed a couple of days ago, which coincidentally, was about chewing gum. If I state that I don’t chew a certain brand of gum, and have never purchased it, I don’t expect follow-up questions about how I think that certain brand of gum tastes, and what I think of that company’s transmedia communications, such as their Facebook or Twitter page. Really, I think that in order to yield more accurate results, the vast majority of surveys should alter the later questions in a survey, depending on the answers given to the initial, post-verification questions.

To me, this realisation stirred musings of a certain familiarity, about things that are a bit closer to home, at least for me. What I’m describing sounds like a recent (but not new) effort in RPG design, to construct varied, non-linear narratives, that change depending on the choices the player makes throughout the game.

I should explain myself. When I say that the movement is recent, developers like Eidos Montreal, who are working on the much-anticipated Deus Ex: Human Revolution, are waking up to the fact that the player, depending on the choices they make, need not see every single level built into a game on a single playthough. What we’re talking about is a branching level structure, which in itself is something has been around for decades, such is evident in the level structure of arcade classic After Burner, which shifts you to various levels depending on whether or not you achieve certain objectives as you’re playing. Games with multiple endings have also been around for a considerable amount of time, with the most apparent example to me being Silent Hill 2, some versions of which had 6 individual endings.

This isn’t about multiple endings, however. This is about a branching narrative structure embedded into surveys that alters what questions are asked depending on the answers given. For instance, returning to chewing gum, if I explain early on that I’ve never tried Wrigley’s Big Chew (TM) gum, I don’t expect any more questions on it for the rest of the survey. What would I know about this particular chewing gum that I’ve never even tried? Sure, you’re going to end up with less numbers at the end of the day, but at least these numbers are more reliable, than, say, quizzing a collection of old people on who their favourite Teletubbies are.

This isn’t to say for a minute that I’m agreeing that market research is either good or useful; I just can’t see things changing any time soon. I’m only trying to do my bit to make it less terrible.


Reader Mail #1: Little Big Planet, Growth, and Creativity

Ahoy, readers! I cannot believe it’s now officially been over a month since we last spoke. A lot has happened since my last post. I’ve submitted my MSc dissertation, and took a couple of weeks off from life; a break punctuated by the occasional job application. I’m now back to kick ass, rock and roll, and other things like that.

A few days ago, I tweeted a call for topics to blog about. Today’s post is inspired by the wonderful @doctorcdf, writer extraordinaire, who has recently been published. Christian also writes the wonderful Whirled Peas, and is more eco hardcore than I could ever dream of being.

Christian asked (although I can’t seem to dig up the exact tweet) what effect Media Molecule’s expansion of its Little Big Planet franchise, Little Big Planet 2, will have on the creative levels of its community. For those of you who don’t know, Little Big Planet is a game production warehouse in itself. It’s sold with a few pre-made levels, but with the real emphasis being on making your own levels and uploading them to Media Molecule’s servers, for all to see and share. It’s a great formula, which has really taken off, and has produced some absolutely outstanding stuff.

Little Big Planet 2, which is to be released next January, brings all sorts of improvements into the mix, such as the ability to create NPCs, and reconfigure your level’s control scheme. It also includes a number of ‘templates’, which mean you’re no longer restricted by a platform game framework, and can instead build racing games, puzzle games, and even RPGs. This last point is a novel addition to the series, but I fear it’s one that may be somewhat moot, considering what people have made using existing tools from Little Big Planet.

Check out the above video and you’ll see what I mean. Someone has successfully recreated Duck Hunt (the NES game that used the NES Zapper), with visually accurate ducks, dog, and everything. It’s a shooting game. You shoot ducks. In short, the level resembles nothing of a platform game, which just goes to show the level of creativity showcased by the LBP community. Indeed, LBP players have built everything from Zelda and Mario remakes, to Donkey Kong themed levels, and have also remade more classical games like noughts and crosses. One chap even used one of his levels to proposed to his girlfriend. In short, the possibilities are practically endless, especially when you bear in mind these levels were built using a set of relatively simplistic tools.

This is all fantastic, but there’s one thing that strikes me as odd. There seems to be a definite trend of creating levels that mimic other games. I’m not saying this is a bad thing by any means. These original games are all based on tried and tested formulae, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s also fascinating how people have overcome the limitations of Little Big Planet’s level editor to come up with things so far removed from conventional platform gaming, and so different from anything you’d expect from a level editor for a platform game. I’m sure this is partly due to the absence of crushing rigidity found in other level editors, but also due to something of a human need to rebel, and conquer such a system. I’m sure some people saw the rules of Little Big Planet as a challenge. After all, it’s people like this, I’m sure, that are responsible for the creation of Counter Strike, and more recently, Garry’s Mod, which were all originally based upon the architecture of the Half-Life games.

What will Little Big Planet 2 do, then? Well, I’d firstly hope that it removes more boundaries from the level creation process. I hope this means people will be less preoccupied with beating the system, and more concerned with producing original levels, and original games, which is something Little Big Planet 2 cites as now possible. As I said before, there’s nothing wrong with the current slew of remakes on Little Big Planet, but hopefully with more tools, and less rules, people will be able to concentrate more on being creative, and making awesome happen. I’m sure there’ll still be those who try to conquer the rules that govern Little Big Planet 2’s creation system, but in lesser numbers, as the system is less restrictive, and makes it easier to allow you to make what you want to make. Although (in my opinion) this greater freedom will sacrifice some of the ingenuity that made Duck Hunt on Little Big Planet happen, but will also allow for more creative ideas to come to fruition. That’s my opinion, anyway. We’ll have to wait and see what happens when Little Big Planet 2 is released.

What do you think? Am I making sense, or does the above equate to complete codswallop? I’d love to hear about some of your favourite Little Big Planet levels, too.

I’ll be having some hands-on time with Little Big Planet 2 at the Eurogamer Expo this weekend, and will surely let you all know what happens.


Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: What I Thought

I was quite lucky to just so happen to return from my annual holiday on the very day that Scott Pilgrim was released in the UK. Yawning from sleep deprivation, and a not particularly pleasant plane journey home, I wasn’t really in the mood to go anywhere, let alone see any films.

This is because I am silly. I was tempted (and advised by friends) to restrict this opinion piece to the words, SCOTT PILGRIM WAS AMAZING. Indeed, anyone following me on Twitter would have seen last night that my Twitter feed was almost wholly consumed by these words. Suffice to say, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’ is a fantastic, astonishing film, that works on many levels.

I approached the film as someone who’s been gaming for almost two decades, now. I live, and breathe computer games, and the film appealed to the gamer mentality in a way that was, well, awesome. In the film you’ll find references to Mario, Sonic, Zelda, Pac-Man and other lovingly thematic things related to the gaming canon, such as huge hammers, mental boss fights, lots of coins, extra lives; I could go on, but I’m not going to. If you’re a gamer, you should probably have already seen this film. It feels as though I’m preaching to the converted.

In terms of being an awesome film, the film takes the medium and literally makes it its own. Based on the collection of graphic novels of the same name, by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World takes the series’ affiliation with comics and somehow fuses the two, including the use of ‘frames’, ‘visual’ sound effects (POW, tssch, BOOM, and other onomatopoeic niceties) and other conventions from comics, and manages to cobble everything together in a film that is very much a film celebrating the wondrous nature of geekdom, and all that it entails. It’s not a film for comic geeks, or gaming geeks, or not even geeks in general, necessarily. Think of it into a window to a kick-ass world you might not yet be a part of. Everything from Scott’s amazing t-shirts (ranging from one that trumpets, ‘SARS’, to a collection of Smashing Pumpkins shirts) right down to the cinematography, and the way different shots and scenes connect to each other screams awesome.

It bothers me that I haven’t yet said anything about the film itself. Scott Pilgrim, 22, Rating: Awesome, is dating a high-schooler. Slowly, you get introduced to the elements that make up Scott’s crazy life, such as his insane gay roommate, Wallace, his band Sex Bob-omb, and their attempts to get big, and literally, the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers. On a whim, Scott decides to forego his relationship with his high-school girlfriend, Knives Chao, and chase after Ramona, who is anything but oblivious to his geekish nature. Somehow, Ramona and Scott end up together, and Scott has to battle Ramona’s ‘seven evil Xs’ (or exes), while still having to deal with both of their histories along the way. I’m trying not to give too much away, because this is a film you really must see. I laughed so very hard, and came out of the cinema feeling like I’d literally just seen one of the iconic films of our generation.

Scott Pilgrim isn’t like any other film I’ve ever seen before. It’s unique, immensely satisfying, and tries something new (or tries many things that are new) which, despite the film’s clearly massive budget (licensing all those sound effects must have cost a bob-omb), hearkens it to what could have well been an indie film. Crikey. It’s just magical.

Scott Pilgrim did not do well on its opening weekend in the US. This is a shame, not only because it’s the kind of film that deserves to do well, but because good ticket sales are what film executives need to be able to justify their wishes to make ‘outside the box’ films such as Scott Pilgrim. This kind of film is exactly the kind of film the film industry needs more of, and without commercial success, I fear that may not happen. So, if you’re a cool person, who’s interested in awesome things, go and see this film. If you’re really awesome yourself, take a friend, or two. Take your grandma. Take as many people as you can, and let your wallets speak out against the incorrigible Hollywood machine, and the laws of capitalism that govern it. We will fight them in the box office. We will fight them through DVD sales, and we shall say, “we really, really want more.”

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is fantastic. It’s wonderfully put together, it’s bold, and it’s very funny. It’s something that you really need to see.

Would I watch it again? Many times. I’m already trying to plan time in my already hectic schedule to see the film again. I will buy this on DVD when it’s released. I will buy it on Blu-ray. Heck, I would buy all physical properties associated with this film, including Michael Cera, if I could. I am very, very excited, and you should be too.

Do something for your fellow citizens today. Please, go and see Scott Pilgrim.


Marcus Rivers hates the iPhone. Sony got beef.

As part of what I’m researching for my wonderful digital marketing dissertation, I’m looking at YouTube channels and whether or not ‘community’ growth links to video popularity, and whether or not that links to good mojo for your brand. It’s quite complex.

One of the channels I’m studying is the MarcusPSP channel, a vehicle for Sony to promote their PSP that was introduced to the world by fictional Sony VP Kevin Butler at this year’s E3. This campaign/channel stars another character, teenager Marcus Rivers. In proper street accredited language, Marcus talks up the PSP, its games, and also criticises the iPhone on more than one occasion. I’ve counted four so far. Take a look at this video that was uploaded yesterday:

In it, Marcus denounces AppStore title Hold On! (or something similar) for being a boring game. Sure, it’s a boring game, which is why I’m sure Sony chose to comment on it, instead of the thousands of other decent games available through the AppStore.

Let’s look at another ad, which this time discusses Paper Toss.

This time, you’ll see Marcus ridiculing the app for ‘wasting his momma’s hard earned money’, and charging for a game you can play for free. This is naughty, especially since Paper Toss is a free app. Admittedly, following its success, the game’s designers, Backflip Studios, launched a new paid app, Paper Toss World Tour, which I’d imagine only reinforces the fact that the original was a decent game. It really was!

If we examine the construction of both of these ads, it’s easy to see that the ads are simply puerile eye-poking, criticising the iPhone as a gaming platform for the sake of, well, not being a PSP. This is similarly highlighted in the comments to these videos, which are mostly (especially in the former) Sony fanboys bashing Apple fanboys, and vice-versa.

If we were to take this a step further, what do these ads actually say about the PSP? Other than the fact that it’s a machine with a die hard, pre-pubescent fan following? The ads are both sharp in their condemnation of the iPhone platform, giving no firm reason as to why. Indeed, the only real reference to the PSP comes from a short montage of PSP games at the end of each video. I’d argue, then, that Sony’s time (and money) would be better spent talking about the merits of the PSP, instead of the apparent downfalls of everything else. This is malicious advertising at its worst.

What about brand messages, as well? This campaign makes me feel as if I’m too old for the PSP. Crikey! I’m only 22! I had my time as a fanboy (Nintend0 represent!) which was all well and good, but have since then moved on to a state of technological enlightenment. I think brands should celebrate what makes them different from each other. Instead, Sony are resorting poking fun at the iPhone, which is most likely an indication of who their biggest competitors are. This makes me sad, and at the same time, makes me want to stay away from the PSP.

What are your thoughts on the iPhone/PSP situation, and on Marcus Rivers? Do let me know. I’d love to hear from you.


Brands that get it: Civilization

Civilization (the turn-based strategy games from Fixaris Games) might be an odd brand to bring up in a discussion such as this. Indeed, most of you reading this (unless you’re into gaming) have probably never heard of the brand. What’s so special about it, then?

Civilization has been around since 1991, and has since then enjoyed cult success as a heavyweight of the turn-based strategy genre. Fixaris’ latest offering, Civilization V, launches next month. Great news for strategy fans, and not a big deal for everyone else, I’m guessing. Bear with me.

Sid Meier, the “legendary game designer” behind the series, brought out a lighter version of Civilization’s rather full-on formula, for more casual players, in 2008. He called it Civilization Revolution. The game was released to a warm reception, prompting a 2009 iOS release. It’s a good, if not further chopped-down version of the original Civilization Revolution, that cost somewhere in the region of £5.

Last week, as a promotion through FreeAppADay.com, for one day, the iOS game was free to download, and since then has been selling for the paltry sum of £1.79. That still sounds like a lot, especially when you consider you could have acquired it for free, but it’s a massively different price point. Still, I’m sure people will be further enticed towards making a purchase by all the new, lovely reviews from people who downloaded the app for free.

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge Civilization fan. Or at least I wasn’t. Before my Civilization Revolution download, I specifically remember my last experience with the series was playing Civilization II at a friend’s house while I was in primary school. Still, being reintroduced to the Civilization has had a massive effect on me. It’s just so addictive. As a result, I’ll be sure to pick up Civilization V next month when it’s released.

Fixaris, and 2K Games, its publisher, don’t seem to have done a great deal of promotion for Civilization V, other than the standard, very pretty official website. It’s a long call from the brilliant, tongue-in-cheek campaign they used to launch Civilization IV, depicting a mock help service for Civilization addicts. They also produced some brilliant advertisements for this, which you should really take a look at. They did, however, use Civilization Revolution to promote the brand as a whole, in a very non-direct way.

So, what can we learn from this? People like free stuff, for starters, and are willing to download anything of (monetary) value if it’s given away for free. What some might see as money lost in app revenues, Fixaris/2K probably see as introducing people (getting them addicted) to the Civilization franchise. It worked on me, for sure.

It’s not often that companies give you something to say, “Oh, hello, here’s something we did a year ago, for free!” I’m sure many took their free game and let that be that. However, Fixaris/2K implicitly gestured, “If you liked that, there’s more where that came from next month!” This is fantastic, especially since they didn’t shove this in anyone’s face. Nowhere on the game’s AppStore listing is there any reference to Civilization V. Indeed, the promotion is put down to a ‘birthday celebration’.

Lesson two, then, is that people don’t like being shouted at. Games and advertisements are (or should be) two different things entirely. People download Civilization Revolution to play, not to be preached at. People are clever, and more than capable of doing their own research. In fact, I felt quite privileged when I figured out, all by myself, that a new Civilization game is being released soon.

All in all, this whole strategy is a great way of driving adoption of a small, cult-like (niche?) product, like a turn-based strategy game. Everyone knows that people don’t know what they like. If you show them something neat, which they might not have explored before, and they can obtain at no inconvenience to them, you might just be pleasantly surprised. Just be nice about it.


Spoilers

Hello, readers. I hope you are all well. Apologies for the gap in recent posts, but I’ve been a little under the weather recently. I was going to write up a lovely account of social media in-game crossovers (never a good thing) but I’ve become so infuriated and consumed with rage since coming home from work, that I feel it’s best I leave that topic for another day. Now, on to business.

Har har. Spoilers. You all know what they are. I’m not talking car spoilers, contrary to what the above image might imply. I’m talking specifically about spoilers for games, although the message can be translated to other media as well.

Now, I’m assuming you, dear reader, are not someone who spoils things for their contemporaries. If this is true, good job. I shall personally visit you and give you a high-five if you leave contact details in the comments. If you do have a tendency to spoil things for other people, please do the same, and I’ll think of a suitable punishment for you in due course.

A while back, I bought Red Dead Redemption for the Xbox 360, which, if you’re in the know, you’ll know is a stonker of a game. It’s a progression from Rockstar’s GTA series, in which the story plays an even bigger role than thought possible. This game came out a month ago, but I have yet to complete the single-player story. Sadly, thanks to certain irresponsible and despicable individuals from across the interwebs, I already know exactly how the game ends, which has dampened my enjoyment somewhat. Sure, the game is still a delight to play, but it all feels as if the majority of the excitement has been sucked from it.

Social media is a marvellous, fabulous thing, which has encouraged gamers from around the globe to unite, share their experiences, and even coordinate themselves and their online gaming activities in a way that previously wasn’t possible. For instance, players of Red Dead Redemption closely rally around the #reddeadredemption hashtag on Twitter, which is a great way to find fellow cowboys and cowgirls to play with online, or even find quick help with a tricky mission if the need arises. It’s also a place where, admittedly, people do tend to share their experiences of the game. These vary from interesting, amusing, to downright irritating and even soul-destroying.

For instance, it would be an acceptable use of social media, such as Twitter, to tweet,

Anyone looking to go raid some gang hideouts this evening?

That’s fine. That’s using your initiative to seek out friends to play with. I think that pretty much sums up social media in a nutshell, in terms of bringing people together.

Alternatively, it would be acceptable to post something such as,

Wow, that final mission really moved me. I was greatly satisfied by such an ending! Bravo, game creators!

That’s also fine. You’re not spoiling anything at all. You’re expressing your satisfaction on a good 10 or 20 hours work, or whatever, and delighting at a satisfactory ending to a brilliant game, which you acknowledge by praising the game’s creators. Bless you.

This last example is taken too far in many cases, however, and more often than not leads to SPOILERS, such at the one we see below. Remember kids, this is exactly what you don’t want to do, or say, online.

OHHHH MY GOOOOOSH THAT WAS SO INCREDIBLE AT THE END OF THE GAME WHERE JOHN MARSTON SAVED THE CRITTERS BY EATING A TEDDY BEAR WHOLE AND THEN POOPING YARN WHICH HE THEN USED AS A LASSO TO KIDNAP HIS MOTHER AND STRANGLE EARTHWORM JIM!

This is unacceptable, and I cannot abide it.

Please, everyone. Use social media responsibly. Part of that is realising who you’re broadcasting what you’re saying to. If you have a private Twitter account, and you are only friends with fellow ‘hardcore’ gamers who insist on finishing games quickly, then fine. Spoil all you want. If you’re using a hashtag which you know is monitored by all sorts of people, however, please keep your spoilers to yourself. This applies to YouTube comments, Facebook statuses, and anywhere else people can publicly see your words.

Even forewarning of such a spoiler is unacceptable. On the internet, as I’m sure you’re aware, people scroll upwards, downwards, side-to-side, diagonally. If you write it down, it will be seen by people, and will spoil things for a great many of them.

What do you think you’re gaining by posting such things? You think it makes you look impressive? You think it’s big to spoil things for other people? Well, how about I come over to where you live, waste a day of your life, or thereabouts, playing through the computer game of our generation (or one of them) alongside you, only to point out as you progress through the game what happens to each of the principal characters. I then hand you a flat glass of lemonade, fart in your face, and leave you, weeping, to pick up the pieces

When you spoil games, that’s what you’re delivering to any number of unsuspecting people. Flat games, and a fart in the face. Think before you type.